Chef of The Week: Aaj Fernando, Executive Head Chef of Ricker Restaurants

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
Four years

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
Being Sri Lankan, and having a food culture at home, has formed the basis of my food knowledge. My mother cooks everything from scratch with the freshest produce at home. She inspired me as a child. In fact, I am using her recipe for sweet, salty and sour spicy cucumber salad and seafood Sri Lankan curry at E&O right now. She is an inventive and incredible chef, it’s all about the process and learning about diligence as a kid. I have worked in loads of Asian kitchens throughout my career, but the first years are the most formative, also the produce at home is unbeatable, having ingredients like that it’s hard to get it wrong.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The short, sociable hours. I’m only joking! It’s the creativity and feeding thousands of happy faces every week.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Lime, chilli, garlic.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
Josper charcoal oven. We use it for our amazing black cod, and all sorts of other tasty stuff. Everything that comes out tastes phenomenal

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
There’s much creative street food right now, from breakfast hoppers to beef bourguignon burgers, Po Boys and filled Yorkshire puddings, anything portable is on trend.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Laziness, cutting corners with pre-prepped food, and just cooking the same food day in day out. You need to stretch yourself to become a better chef. Try something new. I’m doing a pastry course soon. As a pan-Asian chef, I have never really spent time in the classroom for that subject!

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
Spring for all the new season’s veggies – asparagus, peas, the freshest little tender shoots to use, all amazing with minimal messing. And I love Christmas, too

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
My whole crispy sea bass, three flavours. It looks very impressive served as a whole fish and it’s very flavoursome, with nice heat from the chilli and crispy skin. It sits up on the plate as if is ready to swim off the table!

How do you come up with new dishes?
I look at new season’s ingredients and see what works with what spices. It also depends what the weather is doing. It’s all random.

Who was your greatest influence? 

Tell us three chefs you admire
Nobu, Massimo Bottura and Gordon Ramsay.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Ben Chapman from Kiln and Smoking Goat is the chef to watch.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
XU in Soho – amazing room, perfect food.