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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

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Prepare ahead like a chef! | Udenie Wickramasinghe | Florida, USA

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ශ්‍රී LankaNZ is a free distributed Sri Lankan Community Newspaper that aims to reach a Sri Lankan population of over 18,000 all over New Zealand. The demand for entertainment in literacy media itself gave birth to ශ්‍රී LankaNZ

My mom is a superhero. My grandma was a legend! Kindness, warmth, her voice, and the art of her domestic life were on a different level. Her wisdom inspired many women in my family. Surrounded by rolling hills, blooming Jasmin, and the soothing sound of a nearby waterway, Grandma moved like a graceful swan in her surroundings. She could create an atmosphere of warmth and care like none other. She was the one who taught me that the most beautiful thing about a woman is not her beauty. It’s her confidence, kindness, and ability to nurture others. And her culinary skills were off the roof! Fast forward many years, and with a few degrees under my belt, I left a world I knew so well to start my own. 

I have shared my background story here because what I do today as a chef has a lot to do with it.  If I am good at one thing in life, it’s my ability to prepare well for anything. As a child, I observed how grandma’s day was filled with careful planning, from selecting produce from the fields to curating a “menu” that highlighted what was available in the season. Her lace tablecloths, flower arrangements in antique copper vases, and house prep for any celebration were pure inspiration. With an eye for detail, she transformed her rustic kitchen into a culinary heaven. We devoured anything she put on the table. My mother was no different. She took it to the next level and became the only female in her family to throw some mind-blowing gatherings yearly. My mom remembered everyone’s favourite dish and her effort to make it all possible was admirable. These maternal giants carved a way for me to walk towards a life they never had. I broke generational curses; barriers against women in my family couldn’t even think of confronting.

Years of being a little girl who wanted to help, cook, and arrange anything she put her hands on. I already had the basics tattooed to my core. Before I even thought of becoming a chef, I entertained frequently and loved every bit of it.

Hosting can be an intricate form of art. It appears to be all simple and put together, but only a host knows how much work is needed to make anything look effortless.

What exactly is in preparation? I watched Grandma and Mom host family gatherings. They took months to prepare. My mom said, “The more you prepare, it shows how much you care for people, you are more in tune with other’s needs, and it makes you graceful and selfless”. Once you have mastered getting things done, you will have enough time to engage with your guests. As mom meticulously orchestrated every element, I watched her anticipation grow. We always rushed before our guests arrived, crowding each other in front of the mirror, trying to fix our dress or hair regardless of who came for dinner. Short Eats were laid out, “milk coffee” (instant Nescafe) brewed, and not only our guests, we all dived into what mom had been making for days. It was magic in an idyllic retreat. Trust me, we were never rich, but boy! it was heaven!

How did she do all that? How did she inspire me to carve my path to serve people uniquely? It was the process. It was the preparation and joy we shared.

Know your audience

If you love to ditch what everyone is doing, try infusing your unique personality and style into every aspect of the event. Begin by brainstorming some ideas: simplicity is the key. As a chef, I focus on innovative menu ideas that showcase what I am offering for my clients with specific needs. It usually involves lots of plant-based dishes. Make a list of some of the favourites you think people might love eating. It could be some traditional Sri Lankan dishes and add unexpected elements such as a great salad, roasted veggies, or chutneys. Always offer more vegetable options because you might have guests with health conditions. Alongside one good meat dish or a fish curry is sufficient. When you have a busy schedule but still would love to have people over buy some pre-made dishes. It’s OK to compromise because the idea is to have people over, build connections, and create a wholesome life. Trust me on this!

Plan ahead

Advanced prep means buying groceries ahead of time, cleaning and organizing your home days before the event (follow one room at a time method), borrowing extra chairs from your neighbour, buying candles, incense, flowers, or some foliage from your hard: visualize how you want to do it and work round that picture in your head.

Make a list, Check it twice

As chefs, we are successful when we have our “mise en place”. It means ingredients are prepared and organised before a meal. You can use the same method at home. I recommend doing all your chopping, slicing, making desserts, and cooking rice a day or two ahead of time. This way, you can save time if you have a busy career or life. It could be just as spending a few minutes to chop onions or whip up a sauce and store it for a salad you can use when needed. Time management is crucial, and you will soon get addicted to streamlining anything at home. The idea is to save time for relaxation and not dread the day you have guests over.

Pick a serving style

Would you like to make a big pot of stew and serve with some garlic bread?

I vote for family style. When everyone is serving themselves out of the same pot or off the same platter, it gives you this feeling of camaraderie. You can build lasting friendships around this concept.

Don’t overthink, simplicity is the best!

I often entertain with a set menu. When I am drowning with work and kids, I use my oven to do all the cooking, and it takes probably a good twenty minutes to prep everything. Create a menu you can pull together in minutes so you won’t overthink what to serve. And perfect that menu!

As a visual chef  (a homebody), I don’t aim to bore you with stylish tips or fancy tablescapes because I don’t live that. My idea is to open your eyes to experience a rich sense of community. More gatherings, more sharing, more laughter, more of everything wholesome is all I strive for. The goal is never perfection, but simply motivating yourself to be refreshed with people around you and food makes everything better.

By Udenie Wickramasinghe – Miami, Florida
Follow me on Instagram @mind_full-eats

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