Chef Dee talks MasterChef and curry that is not just ‘curry’
Sri Lankan-born Dhayanie Williams, better known as Chef Dee Williams, who was on MasterChef Australia 2019 and managed to make it to the top 24 contestants, is currently back home in the island, sharing her experience in the world stage with aspiring Lankan culinary talents.
She is presently a judge and mentor of Supreme Chef Season 2, which is now being telecast on local media. She is gearing up to share a lot more with the world about the beauty of Sri Lanka via the launch of her YouTube channel and multiple other endeavours.
Dee grew up in Rakwana in the Ratnapura District and studied in Kandy. Having spent her primary and secondary education in Sri Lanka at boarding school, she moved to Australia in 2007 to pursue her tertiary education.
She chose to study hospitality and management in Australia. While there, as she was surrounded by Australia’s culinary arts particularly through her involvement in the hospitality sector, she naturally developed an interest in being part of MasterChef Australia.
Dee shared that she practised a lot at home, learning different techniques, and when she finally did take part in the show in 2019, it was a great opportunity for her, having made it to the top 24; this allowed her the rare opportunity to experiment with different culinary techniques while getting real-time feedback from formidable figures in the culinary world.
The Morning Brunch spoke with Dee on her experiences since being part of MasterChef, which is a world of its own in itself, and how she got through the high-pressure scenarios while under the watchful eye of the entire world. We also spoke about how, since then, she has incorporated her experience and knowledge to carve a corner in the world where she can share her expertise while also shining a light on her Lankan roots.
Q: How has your experience on MasterChef 2019 affected the way you work, and what are some of the things you’ve learnt that have been useful in your career since the competition?
My experience on MasterChef has had a positive effect on the way I work as it has given me a “never quit” attitude. When things are not going well at work or (in) life and I feel like giving up, I always think about my experience on MasterChef. In MasterChef, I really wanted to quit the Pressure Test Challenge because things were going really badly for me in that challenge. However, I was eventually able to complete the challenge and produce something for the judges, even though I was eventually eliminated from the competition.
At least by not quitting, you always have a chance of succeeding. But if you never try, you fail 100% of the time.
The things I learnt whilst being on MasterChef which have been useful today would be the various plating techniques to use for a wide variety of food and the ways to prepare meals faster in a limited timeframe.
Q: You are now teaching Sri Lankan cuisine. How important is it, in your opinion, to share our local food traditions with the world? For example, as you’ve mentioned previously, in preparing the various different curries and using the correct terminology and giving prominence to where these come from?
I think it is very important that we share our local food traditions and cuisines with the world because it is a great way of promoting Sri Lanka, especially from a tourism perspective. Whilst a person wanting to visit Sri Lanka is mainly attracted to Sri Lanka’s beauty, if they are able to also view the unique dishes that Sri Lanka can offer, it is more attractive for a potential tourist when deciding whether or not to visit Sri Lanka.
From the perspective of small businesses, it can be very beneficial as well if people around the world are exposed to Sri Lankan dishes. For example, if more Australians are more exposed to Sri Lankan dishes, it can be very beneficial for the Sri Lankan restaurants that are operating in Australia.
Another reason to share about Sri Lankan dishes around the world is to show that Sri Lankan cuisine is different to Indian cuisine. For example, a lot of people around the world think Indian curries are the same as Sri Lankan curries, whereas they are completely different.
Q: What are your thoughts on the standing of Sri Lankan cuisine on the world stage? Can you speak about it with reference to your experience on MasterChef?
I believe the standing of Sri Lankan cuisine on the world stage has vastly improved compared to, say, 20 years ago. I would say the reason for this would definitely be the introduction of social media, as people around the world are able to visually see the various cuisines available in Sri Lanka. However, I would like the world to see more of the healthy dishes that Sri Lanka can offer. For example, when I stayed at Jetwing Ayurveda Pavilions last year, they were able to make amazing, healthy Sri Lankan meals.
I think Sri Lankan cuisine has now started to have a very good global rating as the cuisine is getting a lot more exposure from various television cooking shows and social media platforms. Whilst I was on MasterChef for a short period of time, I was able to produce some authentic Sri Lankan dishes which showcased the unique flavours of Sri Lanka to the judges and was well received.
Q: What do you have going on right now with your career and what can we expect from you next?
I am planning to launch a curry powder range sometime this year. Also, (footage of) my culinary and travel adventure in Sri Lanka from 2019 will be launched later this year on my YouTube channel (Dee Licious TV).
On a weekly basis, I have live cooking sessions on Instagram with a guest. Additionally, I create cooking and product review videos. Through these videos I can collaborate with various brands and cook meals with their products.
I would also love to do more work to promote Sri Lankan tourism around the world. I was lucky to get the opportunity to collaborate with Jetwing Hotels and show people around the world some of the lovely places that I visited throughout Sri Lanka quite recently. However, the country has so much beauty and the landmarks possess rich, deep history; there is so much more to show the world.
On a closing note, Chef Dee shared that it has been her pleasure to present the world stage with the authenticity of Lankan flavours to the best of her ability; she shared that she wished only to shine a light on the fantastic culinary feats we as a country have achieved.
She said that we have a wealth of history, culture, and tradition. However, we must “plate it” in a way that is appealing. “When you present it to the worldwide audience, there are a lot of things you have to look into,” she said, adding that when it comes to food and our dishes “it needs to look prettier on the plate and also have that balance of taste”. However, she said that with the rise of social media, Lankans, especially those in Colombo who are blogging about our numerous restaurants, are having no trouble sharing our talents with the world. Now, we must spread this evenly to all parts of the island.