ACV 25: Work Hard and Build Your Skills (Rishi Naleendra, Michelin-starred chef, Part 1)
By Paul Tern
Chef Rishi Naleendra recounts his journey from part time kitchen hand, cleaning dishes to fund his university education, to becoming the first Sri Lankan to be awarded a Michelin star.Chef Rishi’s impressive culinary career includes stints as Chef de Partie at the world-renowned Tetsuya’s in Sydney, where he developed a fastidious attention to detail, and Pastry Chef at the award-winning Yellow by Brent Savage, whom Chef Rishi values as a mentor whose guidance was instrumental in helping him hone his skills. Chef Rishi’s first restaurant, Cheek by Jowl, was awarded a Michelin star in 2018. He closed it in February 2019 to make way for Cheek Bistro, which now takes up the same space and offers modern Australian fare that marries the fresh, eclectic flavours of the land Down Under with the comforting, hearty notes of bistro cooking. Parallel to the operation of Cheek Bistro, Chef Rishi has since opened a new restaurant, Cloudstreet. Founded in partnership with Gareth Burnett, this establishment showcases the innovation of his kitchen and has received numerous accolades. The menu marries disparate cultures and influences in an exuberant expression while championing ingredient-driven cuisine and seasonality.In April of this year, Chef Rishi is set to open Kotuwa, a traditional Sri Lankan restaurant in Singapore. 3 things I learned Practical experience teaches more than the classroom - Rishi worked in kitchens whilst in culinary school, and notes that getting out into the real world, holding down a job and adhering to a routine are skills that simply can’t be taught in formal education. To truly do great things, one must get out of the systems that support them, and learn to achieve things on their own. Work for skills, not for money - Rishi guides his career choices on the skills he would be developing over the money he would be earning. To get his foot into Fine Dining, Rishi’s income halved, but in return he laid the foundation which developed into the expertise he wields today. The difference is in the details -the key difference between pub food and fine dining is the detail that goes into the food. Fine Dining practices precision to a tee. Every element of a dish must have the same dimensions (measured by a ruler!) or else it would not go out. It’s this level of detail which separates casual dining to world class chefs.