We’re super excited about our event this weekend with Jon Lewin from The Locals Cookbook and Psychopomp Distillery: a corner of Sri Lanka, right here in the heart of Bristol. Ahead of time, we caught up with Jon to find out about his love of Sri Lanka, what to expect this weekend, and how it all began.
What drew you to Sri Lanka when you were travelling?
It was an appetite for surfing as much as for food that drew me to Sri Lanka and ever since, both things have lured me back again and again. I first travelled to Sri Lanka on a surfing trip with friends in back in 2004. Although I had already started out on my culinary journey by that point, the first trip was purely about the waves.
This trip was also one of the craziest times in my life as it unfortunately coincided with the Boxing Day Tsunami. Experiencing the disaster first hand was both terrifying and memorable and gave me a special connection to the country and its people, which I still have to this day. The kindness and warmth shown by the locals in its aftermath was astonishing. Sri Lanka is without doubt a truly amazing culture, full of smiles, compassion, and a general togetherness that I cannot find the words for.
How long did you spend there, and how did cooking become a key interest?
Out of the last 13 years I’ve spent about 3 of them on the island exploring the food, the culture, nature and the general way of life. It’s up there with my favourite places on earth for sure.
I’ve always had a keen interest in foreign cuisine and the exotic ingredients used to create dishes from around the globe and I started learning the basics when I was 21 from the mother of what I now see as my Sri Lankan family (the Panditha’s) and I guess it just spiraled from there really and it hasn’t stopped since.
What is special (for you) about Sri Lankan cuisine?
For me it’s all about the spice! Due to its cultural diversity combined with past foreign influences Sri Lanka offers a vivid array of ingredients, flavour combinations and culinary styles. This can be seen and tasted as you travel throughout the country. The most important thing Ive learnt along this journey would have to be how to delicately balance the plethora of spices used in the cuisine. From the locally roasted curry powders and fiery hot chilli powders to the world-renowned Ceylon cinnamon, it really is an art-form.
How did the idea for The Locals Cookbook come about?
It was a culmination of everything I’d been doing up to that point in life really and it came to me pretty organically. From brief stints working professional kitchens to travelling the world and doing a degree in photojournalism, I wanted to continue on these paths and bring together all the things I was passionate about in life i.e. photography, travel, food and surfing. I’m a great believer in doing what you love and what makes you happy, life’s too short not to really. This is where the idea for the Locals Cookbook series came about.
Travelling from a young age gave me a unique opportunity to see and taste the delights that far off destinations have to offer. Returning home after my travels, I would often find myself heading out to a restaurant to eat the same type of food I’d been enjoying overseas. I’d nearly always be disappointed by the fact that most of the dishes had been adapted to suit Western palettes, losing their authenticity in the process. This was when the concept of The Locals’ Cookbook came to me: a series of books that would bring the true tastes of these idyllic corners of the world to a wider audience.
I’ve also been involved in a fair bit of charity work over the years and wanted to incorporate this into the project, so 10% of all profits go back into the local communities in Sri Lanka.
What should visitors to The Harbourside Market this Saturday expect from your demo?
This Saturday’s demo is all about taking it back to basics and introducing fresh coconut, coconut milk and authentic Sri Lankan curry to the Bristol foodie scene. I’ll be making my Sri Lankan Mum’s epic chicken curry recipe and will also be selling my debut book, my range of artisan spices and the latest edition to the product range, the coconut grater.
What would your “ideal meal” be? (Like a Last Meal, but, you know, cheerier!)
That’s a tough one so I’ll give you my ideal menu for a whole day as I don’t want to miss anything out.
I’d have to say a simple breakfast of fresh passion fruit juice with dhal and hoppers; Jaffna crab curry, string hoppers and dhal again for lunch; then a seafood barbecue with my friend Rasika for dinner, followed by deep-fried caramelised coconut balls. I’d also have a few street snacks like breaded fish rolls and samosas in between.
Don’t miss out! Join us with Jon Lewin down at the Harbourside Market on Saturday 19th August for a Sri Lankan feast you can learn to make yourself.