Chef John – On Cooking and Kumbuk


Six months ago I was approached by a young chap called John who was in Sri Lanka on holiday about to return to a job in Dubai. On our very first meeting at the café we discussed his previous work experience and decided that he could help us craft a menu or two whilst here.

Needless to say, what started as a quick project turned into a full time job, we simply couldn’t let him go! John has helped us to turn the Café Kumbuk menu around, plating up food we enjoy and love to share. He crafted and created the veggie vegan menu at Kumbuk Kitchen – supporting the opening team like the superhero he is.

You’ll often see him on his bike, cycling between both cafes with supplies under one arm. Here he chats to us on cooking and Kumbuk.

1. Give us a little rundown of your culinary work experience and why you chose to move back to Sri Lanka?

I am a Chef with 6 years of experience in the Hotel industry. Previously I had worked for the Hilton Hotel Chain both in Sri Lanka as well as in Dubai. During this time I had the opportunity to work for 10 plus restaurants spanning across 4 Hilton Hotel properties as well as being able to represent Sri Lanka for culinary competitions in France and China.

I had been on holiday in Sri Lanka after ending my time in the Hotel industry and I was originally planning to head back to Dubai to work for an independent restaurant as part of their opening team. During this time I had come to see Sri Lanka in a new light: one with an abundance of local produce to work with and a country slowly trying to re-invent its culinary scene. I wanted to be a part of it and took a leap of faith and moved back to Sri Lanka

2) What first sparked your interest to be a chef?

Even after completing my basic culinary training at 17 and being able to train further as an apprentice Chef. I still was not convinced I wanted to be a Chef. It was only when my apprenticeship had led me to work in a fine dining restaurant that I was convinced. The amount of respect shown to ingredients ,the dedication given to each dish and the adrenaline filled atmosphere during dinner service was all part of why I wanted to continue being a Chef

3) What’s your favourite local ingredient to work with and why?

Honestly everything! There are so many amazing ingredients to work with in Sri Lanka. It really is hard to pick just one but a current favourite of mine is Polos (Baby Jackfruit). Shana and myself had experimented on making a mock "pulled pork" and it turned out better than we had expected!

4) How does the restaurant/café scene in Dubai compare to Sri Lanka?

Dubai is Dubai. Hotels, Restaurants and Cafes have carte blanche on the food trends. Picnic style brunches on rooftop gardens to the simple hole-in-the-wall burger joints.Dubai has it all and are ready to cater to all.

In Sri Lanka, restaurants and cafes have one problem in common. Simple ingredients become expensive and difficult to get a hold of and so we are not ready as a tourism promoting country to cater to everyones needs. I hope this changes in the near future.

Apart from this I think many establishments have worked their way around such issues by providing local alternatives to international products thereby creating a somewhat unique tropical inspired food culture. 

5)  What is it about Café Kumbuk that initially drew you to it?

I had approached a few cafes and restaurants for work and Cafe Kumbuk (Shana) was the first to reply. I liked the ambiance of the cafe: simple and rustic. Shana knows her food and this makes it easier as a Chef when creating new menus. I thought this was the perfect setting for me to start from.

6) What is it about the Café Kumbuk menu that’s different to what other cafes are offering up in Colombo?

We try to make at least 90 percent of whats on the plate to be locally sourced. The food is healthy but also tasty and sourcing ingredients locally when and where we can allows us to serve food that is reasonably priced and very filling. We take food inspirations from around the world and we want to translate these dishes using local produce and make our menu as unique as possible. 

7) What’s the next step for Café Kumbuk?

Currently we are working on opening for dinner and we are looking forward to the coming months when we get to re-invent our menu.


Acalia Digital

A nomadic creative agency that specialize in affordable Branding, Design, Squarespace websites and Social Media content creation.