Always in search of a new challenge Peter followed his instincts opening Noosa-based restaurant, Alba just at the end of the pandemic lockdown.
Peter also speaks openly about the other challenge he faces with the pain in his knees when at work, applying will and determination to overcome it. Setting himself challenges both big and small, whether making a great dessert or filleting a fish, help him focus and stay motivated.
“It’s getting harder for me to be at work and not be in pain, but I have to be confident that I can do it.”
Despite the odds, and has seen the restaurant come into full flow.
Hot on the menu include the black pepper king prawns with coconut and whipped curd, crayfish with black garlic and sourdough bread with coconut butter.
Peter’s newest business, Alba Noosa, is a branded house, and has succeeded from offering a range of different services. There is a pizzeria, cafe, bar, restaurant, providore/bottle shop and the ‘Chef’s Kitchen’ cooking school and studio, all under the Alba brand.
“Alba has many streams of income, and this helps the bottom line. We’re capable of large functions and have one of the largest capacities for a restaurant on one level.”
An acre of lawns and gardens surround the venue, and can also be for events. As times are changing, Peter has found that more wedding planners and corporate events organisers are looking for different options to the traditional ball room, which Alba can support.
With a brand juggling so many streams under its hat, it goes without saying that life gets busy for Peter.
“It’s always hard when you open a business, but I’ve got a great team and will only be able to make more time as the team hits their stride; then I’lll have more of a balance.
Peter is fortunate to have a gym onsite, where he goes to destress, and gets to the beach as much as he can.
“I take time off for my kids’ special events because if you miss out on them, what is it all for?” he says.
But, for Peter, he always has a buzz from the business and being in the kitchen.
Flip it and think of how boring other jobs would be,” says Peter.
“The rush of service and the end of a hard successful day is hard to beat, no one day is the same.”
Peter emphasises the importance of not bringing work home at the end of the day, too.
Early Career and Training
With a Sri Lankan father, Peter spent part of his childhood growing up there and his love of food began cooking dishes at home. Taught his first few recipes by his grandmother, his growing love for cooking developed and he went to work a 4-year apprenticeship in Sydney, from 1979 – 1982, getting hands-on experience in restaurants and studying 1 day per week with TAFE.
By the time he was finished, he had an all-round host of chef skills to use in his end was proficient in every section including pastry.
He went on to build experience working at restaurants including the Rogues Restaurant in Sydney and at Michelin star restaurant, Rue St Jacques, in London.
Of all ingredients, Peter in particular enjoys working with seafood.
“It’s fresh and coastal and with each season brings new species that gets my creativity going,” he says. “Mud crabs are a favourite of mine to eat and cook, along with prawns and abalone.”
Awards and Achievements
Peter has won a number of awards, including Chef Hats and high levels of his contribution to food and Sri Lankan cuisine.
“It’s nice to be recognised, but more importantly that your guests have a great experience, because without their recognition, we’d be nothing!” he says.
What Peter loves about his work is the variety, of both the produce, ingredients and people he works with. “As time has passed I recognised that a restaurant on its own is not enough.”
The advice Peter has for people coming into the industry is simple. Peter advocates for loving the ingredients you work with and striving to give customers an exceptional experience.
“Work hard, be good to people and get to know every team member as an individual.”
“This is not master chef – the glory comes with hard work and time and improving on every job from the last one.”
Peter also emphasises the importance of chefs being prepared to jump in and help with general cleaning tasks, helping plate up food – and showing respect to the kitchen hand staff.
“Be positive, don’t bad mouth anyone and lead by example.”
Future Industry – Better training, more rewards
Peter highlights the industry need for better chef training and the increasing tendency for staff in the search for recognition before putting the level of hard work needed to accomplish higher levels.
Peter recognises that staff are in need of payrises, as well as general income to meet the increased cost of ingredients and labour, but this can’t happen without customers paying more.
“The customer can’t always pay more, so it is not possible to pay staff more,” he explains. “However, those chefs who excel always get rewarded, as pay is skills-based and if you can manage productivity, then the rewards will come.”