The Multifaceted Talent of Shehan Setunga
In the culinary world, Shehan Setunga, also known as Juppè, is making waves with his exceptional talent for cooking and his electrifying prowess as a DJ. Hailing from Sri Lanka, his culinary journey began at a young age, inspired by his late grandmother’s delectable creations. After completing his Culinary Arts certification in Malaysia, Shehan ventured to Melbourne, Australia, where he honed his skills as a Sous Chef at renowned establishments such as Hellenic Republic and Tulum Restaurant. With a fusion of Mediterranean and Turkish influences, Shehan’s culinary expertise has garnered him recognition and admiration. However, his journey doesn’t stop there. Juppè is not only a professional chef, he is also a professional DJ. Inspired by world-renowned DJs like Space Motion, Eric Prydz, and Purple Disco Machine, he specializes in mixing genres like Indie Dance, Tech House, Melodic House, and Afro House. Juppè’s passion for DJing has grown from a hobby into a significant part of his life, evident in his carefully curated sets that take the audience on an unbound journey of movement and dance. If you spot his name on a lineup, be sure not to miss out on his captivating performances.
How did you discover your passion for both cooking and DJing?
Was there a specific moment or experience that led you to pursue both careers? My journey into the world of cooking began with a deep love for food. It all started with my late grandmother, a remarkable cook who not only had a flair for culinary creativity but also penned her own delightful recipes. Whenever I had the opportunity to spend a day at her place, I found myself drawn to the kitchen, captivated by her every movement and constantly bombarding her with questions. Even though she passed away when I was only nine years old, the vivid recollection of the intoxicating aromas and mouthwatering flavours of her cooking has remained etched in my memory, igniting my lifelong passion for food. My commitment and enthusiasm for cooking truly took root twelve years ago when I made the resolute decision to become a chef. Along this exhilarating journey, I have been immensely fortunate to work at various establishments, collaborating with exceptional chefs who have served as invaluable sources of inspiration, shaping me into the accomplished chef I am today. During the challenging period of the longest lockdown in Melbourne, brought about by the global pandemic, I unexpectedly discovered a newfound passion for DJing. Yet, my affinity for underground electronic music had preceded this revelation. It was through the guidance and mentorship of one of my close friends, Luqman Saleem, also known as Looqs, a highly regarded DJ in Melbourne, that I swiftly picked up the art of DJing. This newfound talent quickly blossomed into my second passion, bringing joy and fulfilment during a time of uncertainty and isolation.
How do you manage your time and find a balance between your culinary responsibilities and DJing gigs?
Balancing both cooking and DJing has proven to be quite a challenge, given the time constraints. Nevertheless, cooking occupies the majority of my time as it is my full-time pursuit. On the other hand, being a DJ serves as a therapeutic outlet for me. As a chef constantly immersed in the creative process of crafting dishes, my mind is constantly engaged. However, delving into music allows me to slow down and temporarily detach from the culinary realm. It provides me with a much-needed breather, enabling my mind to rejuvenate and reset, even if just for a few precious minutes.
Could you describe your culinary style or approach to cooking? What sets your dishes apart?
At present, my cooking style can best be described as modern Sri Lankan cuisine. It beautifully combines my cherished childhood food memories, local Sri Lankan ingredients, and a contemporary approach to create a unique and exceptional dining experience. By infusing traditional flavours and techniques with a modern twist, I strive to showcase the richness and diversity of Sri Lankan culinary heritage in a fresh and innovative light.
Are there any particular ingredients or flavors that inspire you the most in the kitchen?
What truly ignites my inspiration is the abundance of unique ingredients readily available in Sri Lanka, which have yet to be fully explored in culinary creations. It fascinates me that despite being blessed with some of the finest fruits in the world, we seldom incorporate them into our dishes. This realization serves as a driving force for me to embark on culinary experimentation, seeking to innovate and introduce a fresh style of dishes that stay true to our traditional flavour profiles while showcasing the diverse array of Sri Lankan fruits and other underutilized ingredients. My aim is to create tantalizing and inventive culinary experiences that celebrate the richness of our local resources, ultimately pushing the boundaries of Sri Lankan cuisine.
How do you stay creative and continuously innovate in your culinary creations?
I find continuous inspiration from various sources such as reading cookbooks, watching food documentaries, and exploring the fascinating world of gastronomy. However, one particular aspect that truly sparks my creativity is traveling for food, especially when I have the opportunity to visit new and unique restaurants. Experiencing different culinary cultures and flavours helps me establish a meaningful connection to my cherished childhood memories of Sri Lankan food. These immersive food journeys provide me with a wealth of ideas and insights, enabling me to infuse my dishes with innovative elements while keeping the essence of Sri Lankan flavours intact.
- What advice would you give to someone who is starting their journey or aspiring to become a chef or even a DJ?
- To start your journey as a chef or DJ, follow your passion and seek opportunities to learn from experts. Practice diligently, build a strong foundation through education, network with others in the industry, and embrace feedback to continuously improve. Stay resilient and persevere through challenges.
How have your experiences in Sri Lanka and Australia influenced your understanding of sustainable sourcingand the use of local produce in your cooking?
Emphasizing the importance of sourcing sustainable local produce is a fundamental aspect regardless of where you find yourself. Australia, in particular, offers an abundance of remarkable ingredients that can easily captivate any chef. However, true culinary prowess lies in the ability to utilize and transform the ingredients available within a particular country or region into delectable and flavourpacked meals. As chefs, our ultimate focus is on crafting dishes that are not only visually appealing but consistently deliver unparalleled taste experiences. By prioritizing the flavours and ensuring their remarkable consistency, we solidify our position within the realm of gastronomy, ready to delight and satisfy the palates of our discerning diners. Can you share a memorable cooking experience or a challenging situation you’ve faced in the kitchen? Undoubtedly, one of the most unforgettable cooking experiences I’ve had is the time I travelled to Sri Lanka from Melbourne in 2017, alongside the renowned chef George Calombaris. Together, we embarked on a series of extraordinary cooking events for Cinnamon life. As someone who had avidly watched MasterChef Australia as a teenager, when I initially arrived in Melbourne, my very first job was working at one of George Calombaris’ esteemed restaurants, given his position as a judge on the show at the time. The opportunity to tour Sri Lanka with him not only established my presence within the culinary landscape but also instilled in me an overwhelming motivation to achieve greatness within Melbourne’s vibrant food industry. This experience truly served as a pivotal moment that propelled me towards even greater culinary pursuits and aspirations
What is your favorite cooking technique, and why do you enjoy using it?
Working with firewood and charcoal as my favourite cooking technique brings me immense satisfaction. The process of adding that distinct smokiness and char to certain ingredients elevates the flavours and introduces an extra depth to dishes. It’s fascinating how, as human beings, we are naturally drawn to these captivating flavours. The inclusion of smoky and charred elements never fails to please guests, heightening their dining experience and leaving a lasting impression. By harnessing the power of fire, I am able to unlock a range of unique and enticing flavours that truly enhance the dishes I create.
Can you share some examples of how you’ve experimented with innovative ingredients and flavors to create unique and contemporary dishes?
One of my most recent creations transported me back to the cherished memories of my childhood. I vividly recall my grandmother’s ritual of making Thambili wine during the month of July, allowing it to ferment beautifully in time for Christmas. Inspired by this recollection and the current abundance of flavourful Rambutans in season, I decided to bring these two together. I carefully extracted the flesh of the Rambutans and compressed it with my grandmother’s treasured Thambili wine. I paired it with Cardamom Meringue, Whipped Buffalo Curd, and a refreshing Naarang Sorbet. The final outcome was a great dish, evoking a sense of nostalgia for the past while encapsulating the vibrant flavours of the present.