Some chefs have a passion for presentation, others for pushing the boundaries with ingredients and flavours.
For chef Sampath Asela, chef artist at Sofitel Abu Dhabi Corniche, it’s a passion and talent for ice carving that sets him apart.
The kitchen artist has a passion for creativity and design. You won’t see him sautéing, frying and slicing ingredients in the kitchen day to day. Instead, the Sri Lankan-born chef focuses on presentation and adding the ‘wow’ factor to guests’ dining experience.
“In the kitchen, I take care of all artistic work, requests from guests, cake making, ice carving, fruit carving, displays and garnishes,” explains chef Sampath. “My job covers quite a lot of things.
“I always want to do my best and put a smile on a guest’s face. It’s great getting
to make someone’s day special.”
After studying ice carving, fruit carving and food artistry in his home country for over ten years, the naturally creative chef decided to start entering competitions to see where he measured up against the best of the best.
Since taking his first steps in the industry, the talented chef has won a total of 41 medals and trophies, including three gold medals at SIAL Middle East 2018, all for his most loved pastime and hobby: ice carving. Most recently, he returned from Luxembourg where he represented the UAE as part of the national team of the Emirates Culinary Guild at the Culinary World Cup.
“Winning those gold medals for ice carving was like a dream come true for me,” admits chef Sampath.
“Ice is my passion, it’s what I most enjoy working with and it’s great to get recognition for my ability.”
When it comes down to it, ice carving is no easy task. Huge 250kg and 300kg blocks of ice are delivered to the hotel for chef Sampath to work with, and he tackles them armed only with a few select tools to create stunning works of art.
If carving a sculpture from a block of ice isn’t enough of a challenge, it’s also a race against the clock to create a work of art before it becomes little more than a puddle.
“You can’t waste time; you have up to an hour or maybe an hour and a half to get it done,” explains chef Sampath.
“I only use my hands on the ice, I don’t use any machines.
I use an ice pick and homemade carving tools that I made by myself and these give me more control and allow me to get more detail into the carving.
“You have to be fast but you also need to be precise because if you make a mistake and the ice breaks, often you cannot fix it.”
Despite all of the accolades and awards, chef Sampath remains humble and knows despite well over a decade of experience that there’s always room for improvement, and that his best work is still ahead of him.
“I always wanted to learn and I am still learning,” admits chef Sampath.
“I always try something new. If I have spare time I will push myself to do something more difficult and more detailed.
“Every time I have the opportunity to work with another block of ice I want to create something amazing – that’s what I always look forward to: making the next creation.”