Amila Madushan Batuwangala from Galeries Lafayette took home the coveted Kitchen Hero of the Year title at the Caterer Middle East Awards 2018 after impressing the judges with his short yet impressive hospitality journey.
The event took place on Wednesday, May 9 at the Waldorf Astoria, Dubai Palm Jumeirah and the category which comprised eight shortlisted nominees, was presented to the unsung hero by Shadi Al Samman, managing director for Sketches Creative Solutions.
Benedict Seva Cruz from The Sum of Us was bestowed the highly commended recognition.
Batuwangala’s is the unlikely story of someone who hadn’t worked in the F&B industry until three years ago, and has since worked hard to improve himself in this sector. He is, as his nomination states, the person the team goes to make the impossible possible — from working on events to dealing with difficult guests. From learning English over the last few years and joining as a steward, Batuwangala is now undergoing cold kitchen training to become a chef.
After receiving the award, when asked about his thoughts on winning, a teary-eyed Batuwangala only managed to muster, “I’m very excited”.
When asked about training to become a chef, Galeries Lafayette culinary director Russell Impiazzi interjected an emotionally overcome Batuwangala and said: “He’s being emotional. He’s a hard working guy. He’s the hardest working person I’ve worked with in the last 20 years. To see him grow and develop and show interest in food, it’s fantastic.”
In the nomination application, Galeries Lafayette events and catering manager Hellen Cox said Batuwangala’s determination to succeed against all odds was what struck her the most. “Amila came to Dubai, with very little English skills, in spite of being an incredibly talented individual from the get go. This is a daunting place to be in a new country yet Amila dug deep and used his own initiative to learn his new role within the team.
“Without communicating verbally, Amila was able to understand what and how the job in hand was to be completed and after two and half years, Amila is normally three steps ahead of anything that you ask him to do,” Cox relayed.
In an effort to share his success and help fellow Sri Lankans, Batuwangala set up a Facebook group for Sri Lankans looking for jobs in the UAE to help recruit new and reliable staff for the establishment. And in terms of his own career ambitions, through the chef training, Batuwangala told Caterer Middle East he aspires to “learn everything” to eventually become like “Chef Russell” referring to Impiazzi.
This year's awards were supported by: platinum sponsor Emaar Hospitality Group; category sponsors A.Ronai, A&T Group Interiors, Bragard, Precision Refrigeration and TSSC, Pulsar Foodstuff, 1765 Gemini; dessert sponsors EMF, Cacao Barry, Callebaut; photobooth sponsor Mintano by Sketches; social media partner Tint; water sponsor Acqua Panna and San Pellegrino; and beverage sponsors MMI, Campari, Fever Tree, and Skyy Vodka.