Helen Peacocke talks and eats with Chef of the Year finalist Lahiru Jayasekara in his kitchen at The Manor, Weston-on-the-Green
Heading down the tree-lined driveway towards the main door of The Manor at Weston-on-the-Green, you will feel like royalty. Taste a dish cooked by the hotel’s head chef Lahiru Jayasekara and you will believe you have died and gone to heaven, such is the standard that this remarkable chef achieves.
Lahiru, or ‘Larry’ as he is known, is one of eight chefs selected from 40 to take part in the finals of The National Chef of the Year 2014. Each finalist will attend a mentor day on Friday, September 19, at Unilever food Solutions, Leatherhead, where they will be given details of the basket of ingredients they will be permitted to use in the final, which takes place in front of a live audience at The Restaurant Show, Earls Court, London, on Tuesday, October 7.
Phil Howard, chairman of the judges, spoke of the energy and enthusiasm that goes into the competition, he said: “As a judge I’m always interested to see where British cooking is at. What shone through from the semi-finals was proper cooking, seasonality and provenance.”
Larry is originally from Sri Lanka, where his family ran a beach cafe. His father was also a head chef at a five-star hotel. Young Larry realised he wanted to be a chef too at around age 15.
He met his English wife, Karen, when she was waitressed in the family’s cafe while travelling in Sri Lanka. The couple then moved to the UK, Larry was just 18.
Since then, Larry has trained in some impressive Michelin-starred restaurants — including working under Gordon Ramsay at The Savoy and the Roux brothers at The Waterside Inn — he is now keen to earn his own Michelin star at The Manor.
But first up the National Chef of the Year competition... Larry says that this is his current focus.
As I sit in his kitchen, he chats about the competition, and you can see his determination to win. He says he is spurred on by Karen and their three-year-old son Lukas, and that their confidence in his talents stimulates him to continually aim for high standards.
“I am 30 now,” Larry says. “We all know that this is the year when we have to achieve our goals. I work at least 18 hours a day, this is not a nine to five job.”
Larry begins cooking me his signature dish: Roast Galloway Fillet of Beef, Pommes Anna, Pak Choi with Bourguignon sauce. Watching a chef who really does know how to handle and cook his ingredients is a spine-tingling experience and when the dish he is cooking is to be yours — wow who could ask for more?
He shows me the hunk of Galloway beef — pointing out the marbling and explaining that it has been naturally reared and is high in Omega 3 and Omega fatty acids. I am definitely feeling hungry!
Working methodically, Larry gently tosses hot butter over the steak, and presses potatoes firmly into their tin for the Pommes Anna.
Sampling Larry’s food is a sublime experience. The pièce de résistance was the pieces of marrow bone that were so succulent their texture and taste resembled marshmallow. Gosh it was delicious — a flavour I’d not experienced before which made it all the more exciting.
If Larry wins the competition he will receive £15,000, but that’s not his motivation for entering. He sees winning as the key which will open his door to success.