We sit down with Chef Wicum Rangana Madurasinghe, the chef de cuisine of Belle Amie Bistro and The Somerset Hotel. Wicum has been working in the culinary industry for over 15 years, and many of those years were spent here in the Maldives. Read on to find out more about his career experiences, the culinary awards he has won, and more.
Lonumedhu: I want to start by asking you this. What brought you to the Maldives and how do you find it here?
Wicum: After I finished culinary school, I worked in Sri Lanka for about 6-7 years and one of the chefs that I had worked with told me that they had an opportunity here in the Maldives. He was working in Beehive Nalahiya Hotel at the time. Back then I didn’t have any idea about the Maldives – all I knew was that the Maldives was a few islands, that’s all. He said that this would be a really good opportunity for me, for my career, because there are many resorts with a lot of European chefs here as well. And that’s how I started here, working in Nalahiya Hotel as a commis chef.
Lonumedhu: Have you tried the local food? What do you think?
Wicum: Yes, of course. My favourite is the smoked fish (valhomas) and coconut, mas kaashi. It’s something that we eat in Sri Lanka as well, but I like the Maldivian version better.
Lonumedhu: How did you get into food?
Wicum: Actually, the simple answer is that my mum decided (laughs). After I finished school, I didn’t have any idea about what I wanted to do. My mum told me that I should learn something independently, and that’s really why I started culinary school.
Lonumedhu: So, you didn’t cook at all before, even at home?
Wicum: No, not at all.
Lonumedhu: Tell us a little bit about your experience in the industry. You worked in Le Méridien in Thailand and Al Manara in Jordan as well, right?
Wicum: After working in Sheraton Full Moon in the Maldives, I left in 2017 and went back to Sri Lanka where I worked in luxury hotels for almost two years. Then I moved to the same Marriott group in Jordan where I worked for about one and a half years in Al Manara. After that, I got a very good opportunity to work in Thailand, at the Le Meridien Khao Lak Resort & Spa. Then, of course, the pandemic hit, and I moved back to Sri Lanka. Then in April 2021, I came to the Maldives again, here to The Somerset Hotel.
Lonumedhu: What sorts of things do you have to take care of here at The Somerset Hotel as the chef de cuisine?
Wicum: Basically, as I am overall in charge of kitchen operation, my main role and responsibility is to offer good quality food for all the customers at decent prices all the time without compromising taste and original recipes. We do this by using fresh ingredients, while maintaining proper hygiene and this creates and maintains the reputation of The Somerset Hotel and Belle Amie Bistro.
Being the number one restaurant among many food outlets from the Trip Advisor ranking, and also being number one based on most of our customer feedback; it’s very important to us to maintain the proper standard and offer a friendly service philosophy all the time.
My primary task is to ensure the consistent quality of food while maintaining healthy customer satisfaction. I have to make sure that we cater to all guests who are visiting from every part of the world with multi-cuisine culinary expertise. Because we really need their satisfaction compared to what they spent. I also conduct industrial trainings for my teammates, which helps them to create and inspire new dishes, menu engineering, menu planning, and enhance their knowledge towards developing professional careers.
Lonumedhu: What’s your favourite cuisine to cook? And why?
Wicum: I like French cuisine. Because they don’t really use any extra flavours, they just highlight the food’s own taste. For salads or meats, they don’t use a lot of herbs or spices, they just try to enhance the existing taste of the food, which I really like to do as well.
Lonumedhu: I know that you’ve won a few awards as well. Tell us about them.
Wicum: The first award I got was in 2001 in Sri Lanka, in culinary school. After that, I won my next award in 2008. And then in 2016, I won two awards for live cooking at the Hotel Asia Exhibition and Culinary Challenge in Male, Maldives; I think I won a total of six awards that year.
Lonumedhu: What was the experience like, participating in these culinary competitions?
Wicum: Culinary competitions are a very good opportunity to showcase your skills and capacity because we see the best expert chefs in each category. And we know what our level is as well. It’s also about networking; meeting different people from different hotels. It’s also about seeing the emerging young talent.
The recognitions are also a very important part – your personal recognition as well as for the establishment, hotel, or resort that you work for. You can identify your expertise from these competitions as well because the judging is very extensive, with about 20-25 judges for each category. And you have to cook their ingredients in front of them, so it’s very intense. And you’re not only judged on the taste of your food but also the presentation, hygiene, food methodology – everything is judged, so you can really have an idea of where you stand.
Lonumedhu: There must be many chefs that you admire and look up to. Who is your “food hero”?
Wicum: Chef Andrew Thomas from Spain is one Michelin-starred chef that I follow. He cooks French cuisine, and he makes very simple food but with very unique flavours, which I really like.
Lonumedhu: What’s next for you? Any future plans you could share with us?
Wicum: I want to be a food consultant, down the line. I also want to have my own restaurant with my own recipes back home in Sri Lanka.
Lonumedhu: Do you have any advice for upcoming chefs, or young people who want to start out in the industry?
Wicum: Yes. Everybody can cook, but not everybody can be a chef. Because it’s a kind of talent and kind of a long journey. It requires a certain kind of discipline and you have to go through the process, starting from the bottom – dishwashing, cleaning the kitchen. You must also be able to work long and flexible hours. If you select this industry, you really have to be committed and stick with it until you reach your goals. Of course, you have to get your qualifications and be up to date on the latest trends, but without discipline or structure, that doesn’t really mean anything.
Lonumedhu: Anything else you want to add before we end the interview?
Wicum: I want to thank the chefs who helped me at the start of my career, especially those from Sri Lanka and the Maldives. I can’t name all of them, but chef Roman from Germany and Chef Chetan I really want to thank. They didn’t really teach me to cook per se but taught me more about managing the kitchen and gave me opportunities to grow, which I really appreciate. And I’d also like to thank Chef Mahinda from Sri Lanka who brought me to the Maldives. And also, Michael Moulasse, an Italian chef.
Lonumedhu: Thank you, Chef Wicum for your time. We hope to see you in the Maldives for many more years, and we wish you great times ahead!