On October 26th, 2020, I arrived at the Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Esquimalt, B.C., Canada to help kick off their Food Diversity Week. With more than 7,000 members of diverse backgrounds at CFB Esquimalt, I was beyond honored to participate and excited to team up with base and fleet cooks to share my knowledge of Sri Lankan food, and guide them through a couple of the recipes from my new cookbook.
I was greeted by Commander Jason Barbagallo, Commanding Officer, Base Administration, Lieutenant (Navy) Colin Winkler, Base Personnel Services Officer, and Chief Petty Officer Second Class Troy McGregor.
"In the 32 years I have been here, this is the first time we will be preparing Sri Lankan food," Lt(N) Winkler told me as they gave me a tour of the galley (all necessary safety precautions taken). No pressure, I thought to myself! My task was to provide some background about Sri Lankan cooking as well as instruct a couple recipes that they would be preparing the following day on base to around 150 members.
We began our day at the Naden Wardroom at 6:00 AM. When I arrived, the group of six cooks, Master Sailor Ryan Eves, Sailor First Class Asa De Torres, Sailor First Class Michel Cotton, Corporal Eric Baron, Sailor Second Class Kristin Lefrank, and Private Tyler James Ronan were masked up and already peeling beets. I realized that maybe I would be the one doing learning.
As the day progressed, this turned out to be the case as I discovered much about their trade as naval cooks, their worldly culinary skills, the regular challenges they face, and the fun they have that makes them get up and do what they do three times a day (sometimes more) every day. My heart swelled with pride, just to be among them and share in that moment.
They told me about the adventures of cooking at sea aboard naval ships, Corporal Eric Baron telling me about the five-foot waves that sway and tilt galley kitchens to a degree that tip soups simmering in "bombers" (enormous vats) to the lip, all while they dance the running man to hold themselves steady. "I love it!" Sailor Second Class Kristin Lefrank told me with enthusiasm and laughter. More than anything, that is what I observed of them, the sense of ease and humour, that almost hides their exceptional skill as cooks. And the way they made me feel as though I was just another member of the team -- even if for a day.
Before I knew it, the vegetables were cut, the spices laid out, the chicken prepped. And so, we got to it. I led them through the chicken curry recipe; they listened with curiosity and keen attention, and then turned around to their individual stations and prepared the same dish. This is too easy, I thought, as we did the beetroot curry next.
The galley filled with the intense aroma of spices and soon the Executive Leadership made their way to the kitchen. There is an old saying that an army marches on its stomach, and I thought this must also ring true for the Navy. "That smell is amazing" they said as one by one they trickled into the kitchen: Rear-Admiral Bob Auchterlonie, Commander of Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC), Chief Petty Officer First Class Tim Blonde, MARPAC Formation Chief, Captain (N) Sam Sader, CFB Esquimalt Base Commander, and Lieutenant-Commander Liz Mohammed, Base Administration Executive Officer. They taste tested the recipes prepared and served by the cooks, and all provided their stamp of approval commenting on the depth and complexity of the flavours.
The day went by too quickly, and before I could even grasp the magnitude of that moment, we were already wiping down our stations. It is a day that will be forever etched in my memory. “The knowledge you imparted on our team will yield results for years,” said Lt (N) Colin Winkler.
I am all too excited about the prospect of Sri Lankan food making the menus on the base and at sea. As the waters that lap against shores of Canada’s Pacific coast eventually reach the shores of Sri Lanka, Sri Lankan and Canadian sailors that navigate the waters between can share even more in common.
(The final dishes that were served to 150 members! Brazo Zulu!)
Scroll down to find the delicious beetroot recipe from the day’s events.
Related Media Coverage:
Our community: Esquimalt base finds delicious way to celebrate our food diversity, Victoria Times Colonist community pages, 01 Nov, 2020
New flavours on the radar as navy kitchens aim to better represent diversity of force, CBC online edition, 31 Oct, 2020
CFB Esquimalt connecting workforce through diverse foods, Saanich News, 30 Oct, 2020
Cooks at CFB Esquimalt get lessons in traditional Sri Lankan cooking as part of food diversity week, Rohit Joseph, All Points West with Kathryn Marlow, CBC Radio, 26 Oct, 2020
CFB Esquimalt puts multiculturalism in the spotlight for Food Diversity Week, Wells Gaetz, CTV News Vancouver Island, 27 Oct, 2020
Sri Lankan Cuisine Celebrated During Food Diversity Week at CFB Esquimalt, YAM magazine, 27 Oct, 2020
Images on this page ©CFB Esquimalt by Sailor First Class Mike Goluboff and Sailor First Class Sisi Xu.
Public Affairs Contacts: Sub-Lieutenant First Class Michelle Scott, CFB Esquimalt Public Affairs Officer/Royal Canadian Navy, and Katelyn Moores, CFB Esquimalt Public Affairs.
Beetroot Curry (Rathu Ala Maluwa)
1 lb small red beetroots
1 whole green (Thai) chili (optional)
¼ small red onion, finely chopped
½ tsp fine sea salt, or to taste
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
½ cup coconut milk (or full-fat cow’s milk)
1 small lime wedge (yielding about 1 tsp juice)
Peel the beetroots and trim the stems and tips. Cut the beetroots into 1/4-inch-thick slices and then cut the slices evenly into matchsticks about 1½ inches long.
Place the beetroots, chili, onion, salt, and fenugreek seeds in a pot. Add enough water to just cover the beetroots (approximately 1 cup) and bring to a boil, uncovered, over medium-high heat. Turn down the heat to low and let cook, partly covered, until the beets are fork-tender, approximately 15 minutes.
Pour the coconut milk into the pot and add more salt if desired. Lift the pot and move it in a circular, swirling motion to mix the milk into the curry.
Return to the heat and let simmer for a few minutes. Finish by squeezing the lime wedge over top, swirling to combine the flavours again. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the flavours to blend before serving.
Recipe by Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama, from Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves, copyright © 2020 by Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama. Reprinted with permission of TouchWood Editions.