By Naveed Rozais
Working with food is not something to be taken lightly – it involves long hours (not to mention clean- up) and lots of dedication.
This week, The Sunday Morning Brunch caught up with Mad Curry Skills by Chari, a home food business that formally launched before the pandemic and has just relaunched after taking a hiatus. Mad Curry Skills has a small but powerful culinary repertoire. Its signature dish is the beloved Burgher lamprais, as well as a yellow rice with all the traditional fixings that can make any foodie sing. Mad Curry Skills also offers the Malaysian dish Nasi Lemak, though it is currently unavailable due to the difficulty (and cost) of sourcing specific Malaysian ingredients.
The road to Mad Curry
Run by husband and wife team Chinthaka Dharmakeerthi and Charindi Meegastenna, Mad Curry Skills first fired up its stove in May 2019 when Charindi made a Sri Lankanised version of the lamprais as part of something to discuss on her food blog. Both Charindi and Chinthaka come from a history of food – Charindi’s father is a trained executive chef who has worked extensively in Sri Lanka and the Middle East and Chinthaka’s father owned a thriving restaurant in his hometown of Ratnapura. While both Charindi and Chinthaka worked as designers in the apparel industry (this was how they met), food and working with food have always come naturally to them.
“I was trying out different recipes for my blog and I felt like trying out the lamprais. My very first one wasn’t authentic at all – I made it with yellow rice, tuna cutlets, chicken drumsticks and chilli paste. I have this thing where when I cook something I always look to improve it, so I started researching and I found out what the authentic lamprais should contain and how each element needed to be cooked,” Charindi said of Mad Curry Skills’ beginnings.
“One thing led to another and I created my first authentic lamprais. When I posted about it on my blog, the response was amazing. I had so many people asking ‘are you selling it?’ Chinthaka saw these responses and realised this was a great market and we just went for it.”
The branding of Mad Curry Skills was entirely Chinthaka’s design, starting from the logo to the overall aesthetic of the brand – bold black printing on brown craft paper – and within the business, Charindi and Chinthaka took on different roles. The food, of course, is cooked by Charindi, who handles the brand’s social media and customers, while Chinthaka handles the purchasing, finance, and marketing strategy end of the business.
Brunch was given the chance to sample Mad Curry Skills’ signature lamprais, its yellow rice, and a work-in-progress dish that is soon to become Mad Curry Skills’ newest offering, sweet and sour garlic prawns.
There’s a lot of debate on lamprais, because over the years this dish created by the Dutch Burghers has seen many variations pop up in the local market with some parts substituted or added to be more friendly to the Sri Lankan palate, but the Mad Curry Skills lamprais is painstakingly accurate, with Charindi having spent more than six months researching the lamprais and what constitutes it and still continuing to research it even years later to keep it true to the authentic recipe.
The Mad Curry Skills lamprais comes with rice tempered in ghee and cooked in chicken stock, boneless cubed chicken curry, seeni sambol, eggplant pahi, ashplant curry, prawn balachaung, and two chicken frikkadels. The decision to use only chicken was something Charindi made to appeal to the wider Sri Lankan market as many people don’t eat meat such as beef or pork for various reasons.
Charindi has also built Mad Curry Skills to be a halal-friendly business with all chicken being sourced from halal suppliers (having grown up in the Middle East, she is familiar with halal practices), and is determined to make Mad Curry Skills an equal opportunity Sri Lankan brand.
Each element of the lamprais, by our reckoning, was perfectly executed and stayed true to the authentic renditions of lamprais we have tasted. The curries are flavourful and have a bit more spice than the traditional lamprais but still remain subtle. On request, a fried boiled egg can be added to the lamprais. Charindi stressed that an egg was not part of the traditional lamprais, but in the Sri Lankan food zeitgeist, for better or worse, people expected an egg with their lamprais, and so, this was something she offered on request.
The yellow rice was also a delectable treat. The menu comprises fragrant yellow rice, black chicken curry, dry dhal curry, tempered potatoes, eggplant pahi, Malay pickle, and a fish cutlet. A proper Lankan feast. Each of the curries is very flavourful and the portion is quite hearty. Our runaway favourite in this was the fish cutlet; we even asked for a few extra.
We also tried a secret dish not yet officially on the Mad Curry Skills menu; the sweet and sour garlic prawns. The dish comes with a very unorthodox secret ingredient which pulls everything together to create a very unusual and subtle balance of sweet, sour, and spicy.
Mad Curry Skills and the big picture
After having taken a break in 2021 because of the pandemic, Charindi and Chinthaka restarted the brand a few months ago despite the economic crisis because, well, there never would be a perfect time to get back into it, and this new lease of life comes with some carefully considered goals.
“We want to be a well-known brand in Sri Lanka and also look at going international as well. We want Mad Curry Skills by Chari to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue,” Charindi said. “The short-term goal is for us to build a fully equipped professional kitchen and move beyond being a two-man show. In the long term, we want to become a fully-fledged luxury catering service where we provide food, serve it, and also be able to provide things like tents, chairs, and decor and everything else you can think of when it comes to premium-level catering that you need to make a truly memorable event, large or small.”
Key to this is embracing Mad Curry Skills’ differences compared to other brands. “All our customers get true craftsmanship in food, from the recipes Charindi meticulously tests and researches to our sustainable no-plastic packaging to the food aesthetic itself,” Chinthaka explained.
“We think about how every single component works on the plate, both visually and in terms of flavour, we research and subtly change our food to give the best quality and taste, and we also work to the taste of Sri Lankan consumers. Even right now, we’re researching the different ways we can improve and enhance our lamprais and yellow rice. Mad Curry Skills is all about unique taste and a premium luxury experience delivered personally to your door.”
Over the next few months, Mad Curry Skills will be expanding its menu, hoping to bring back its Nasi Lemak when its ingredients are more sustainable and also branching out to include the sweet and sour garlic prawns, a fried rice menu, as well as an everyday rice and curry menu, and desserts like chocolate biscuit pudding as well.
“It’s difficult to offer everything at once, and at present, we only operate on Saturdays and offer only one dish each week, but hopefully this year, we’ll be able to expand and release all of these dishes continuously,” Charindi said.
Mad Curry Skills by Chari can be found on Instagram @madcurryskills_bychari.
It operates on Saturdays on a pre-order basis with orders taken from Monday to Thursday for Saturday delivery.