Flying Fish chef Peter Kuruvita gets in touch with locals and their produce in My Sri Lanka.
PETER Kuruvita has recent, first-hand experience of what it's like to cook outdoors, in the tropics, in front of a television camera.
''I wouldn't recommend it to anyone,'' says the chef at Sydney's Flying Fish. The challenges included ill-timed downpours of biblical proportions; muddy, equipment-laden treks to picturesque locations (where it inevitably rains again); being ''gently baked'' under the cameraman's scrim in ''250 per cent humidity''; and the fact that ''a four-minute cooking segment takes at least five hours to film''.
But then there are the fruits of the labour: a 10-part cooking culture series called My Sri Lanka, of which Kuruvita is rightly proud. The series looks beautiful, whets the appetite and includes extremely endearing monkey and elephant cameos.
Peter Kuruvita: "I've always wanted to be able to show Sri Lanka to people in a positive light."
''I've always wanted to be able to show Sri Lanka to people in a positive light,'' Kuruvita says. ''I wanted to show how beautiful the country is, how vibrant the people are and how food there really brings people together.''
Kuruvita spent some of his well-travelled childhood in Sri Lanka - his father was born and raised in Colombo - and he still goes back every year. In My Sri Lanka, he recalls fond memories while strolling through markets or temple grounds, or preparing a chicken and sandalwood curry on the top of a mountain with a hungry local dog pacing behind him.
Just about everyone in Sri Lanka is a keen cook and has strong opinions about how things should be done, Kuruvita says. Households make recipes that ''have been handed down through generations but never written down, and while every household may make a similar curry, they're all slightly different''.
There's a sort of local joke, he says, that if you're invited to eat at another Sri Lankan home and you're served the most ''sumptuous feast'', after you leave, inevitably someone in your party will say, ''That was really nice but you know what? Not as good as home.'' Ayurveda also plays a significant role in Sri Lanken cuisine - it's almost medicine before it's food.
''If you ask anyone in Sri Lanka what something is [when you're] at a market, they will tell you, 'It's really good for your blood pressure' or, 'That's great if your body is overheating', before they tell you what it actually is,'' Kuruvita says. ''And people are so proud of their produce. Even if they have five chillies, it's the most beautiful pile of five chillies.''
While Kuruvita claims he wouldn't recommend making a TV cooking show outdoors in the tropics, it seems he isn't taking his own advice. This week, even before My Sri Lanka goes to air, he's flying off to start filming another series, this time in Indonesia, Vanuatu, the Cook Islands and the Philippines.
''This series will be more about adventure,'' he says. ''Sri Lanka, for me, was easy; it's like home. The next one will be taking me out of my comfort zone.''
My Sri Lanka starts on SBS One at 7.30pm on Thursday.