On Friday, June 8, Montserrat House hosted a 25-seat dinner with S.H.
“Skiz” Fernando Jr. as cook du jour. An unofficial spokesman for Sri Lankan cooking and author of “Rice and Curry: Sri Lankan Home Cooking,” the statuesque, bandannaed Fernando prepped a selection of the region’s comfort foods, such as black pork curry, caramelized eggplant, coconut sambol and pappadum in the dimly lit gallery space.
The Baltimorean of Sri Lankan descent became fluent in the country’s cuisine during a year-long visit with his extended family in 2006, which morphed into a culinary tour around the island. He solidified his cred when he served as sherpa to Anthony Bourdain in an episode of “No Reservations.” His 2011 cookbook was one of The New York Times’ notables.
The dinner was part of an occasional series at Montserrat House, Thievery Corporation founder Eric Hilton’s gallery and performance art space that has hosted, among other things, a three-day Pho U in March. The facade of the yellow rowhouse on Ninth Street NW bears a drawing of the father of modern architecture, Le Corbusier.
As a bass player, music producer and founder of the Wordsound label, Fernando has amassed experience that aligns with the wandering artists and artisans who demo in the space. Fernando says he learned about Montserrat through Rob Myers, Thievery Corporation’s guitar-slash-sitar player. In addition to this one-off at Montserrat, Fernando says his supper clubs have run in New York, Chicago and Napa Valley.
What is Sri Lankan cuisine? Most dishes incorporate coconut milk and coconut oil, he says. It’s also enhanced by a distinct spice blend. “Thirteen spices to be exact,” he says, and each one is individually roasted before blending. They include cardamom, fennel, fenugreek, cinnamon, black pepper, black mustard and cumin. Fernando creates his own blend.
Fernando’s spice blend will be available at the industry-only Summer Fancy Food Show, where he will sell it at the Buyer’s Best Friend table Sunday through Tuesday at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
To prepare for the event, Fernando says he bought huge bags of individual spices, then measured, roasted and pulverized ingredients for his blend.
“This is the real deal,” he says of his product. “When it comes to Sri Lankan cooking, this is as legit as it gets.”