Making a lasting impression - Gerard Mendis
We caught up with the pastry maestro to gain a deep insight into how he molded his career into a inspiration for all aspiring Sri Lankan chefs.
When one thinks of success in the local culinary industry, Gerard Mendis is a name that is known all too well. From humble beginnings before reaching international fame and everything in between.
What were the first steps you took along your culinary journey?
Hailing from Kandy, I am a proud product of St Anthony’s College. Soon after my O Levels, I joined the trade at the tender age of 17. As a part of my initial training, I joined the Ceylon Intercontinental Hotel as a trainee chef. My immediate superiors at the time were Swiss and German Chefs. I am grateful to them as they gave me the guidance and motivation to move forward in the field.
You’ve had numerous international stints. Can you reflect on this and tell us how it has shaped you to be who you are?
During the course of my career, I’ve worked in and been involved with the opening and training of staff across 27 Five Star hotels spanning the whole world. As I have worked in India, Malaysia, China, Pakistan, Oman, UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Philippines, Egypt, Greece, Austria, Australia, Japan, Guam, Indonesia, and the Maldives, the experience that I have gathered over the years has really opened my eyes to the world of culinary arts. This has also enabled me to develop a respect for the culinary cultures across the world.
What made you return to Sri Lanka?
I was recruited by the Hilton International head office to take up a position in Sri Lanka for the opening of the Colombo property. My main objective was to pass on my expertise and knowledge to all the up and coming chefs in Sri Lanka. I can proudly say that I have achieved this to a level that is even beyond my imagination.
How did your expertise benefit the Sri Lankan Culinary industry?
I was the first to introduce many new trends and culinary products to the country while at the Hilton. Being a trendsetter, I’m happy to note that the knowledge that was passed down to the juniors in the industry has been implemented perfectly. As a result, Sri Lanka has become one the finest destinations for fine quality artisanal desserts and pastry products.
Tell us about Gerard Mendis Chocolatier, what led to its establishment?
I’ve always wanted to open a culinary business under my name which would make me Sri Lanka’s first Chocolatier. Even though I gained most of my experience relating to pastries and desserts in Europe, I’m a very patriotic Sri Lankan who always wanted to come back home to prove to the world that we too have qualified Chocolatiers and Chefs. I have paved the way for many chefs to follow the same trend of creating their own brand and recognition.
What are some challenges that you have faced along the way?
With the increase in taxes and tariffs that are eventually passed on to customers, I try as much as possible to keep my prices to a minimum while still retaining the quality of the product with small margins. I only use the best local and imported ingredients with no added preservatives. If we are to compete with our neighbor countries on the culinary front, tax reduction is the best way forward for this industry.
You’ve been known to represent Sri Lanka at many international competitions and shows, what can you tell us about this?
I am happy to have represented my country at many prestigious culinary competitions, bringing back metal every time. These include our stellar performance at the World Culinary Olympics in Germany. Just recently, the final medal tally for the Sri Lanka World Culinary Olympics Team were 25 Gold medals, 24 Silver medals and 6 Bronze medals.
As a representative for Sri Lankan Chefs, what work do you do outside of your business?
I serve as the Chairman of the Chefs Guild of Sri Lanka. We have contributed immensely towards the tourism industry by way of training our Sri Lankan chefs, putting them on the right path to gain international acclaim. The Chefs Guild continues to mentor the younger chefs while working towards the development of their culinary skills.