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Australian Chef with Lankan roots brings gastronomic innovation to Empower Culinary and Hospitality


Comments / {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}} Views / Friday, 8 September 2017 00:00


Sri Lankan born Australian Rishi Naleendra – Michelin Star Chef and the Owner of Cheek By Jowl, feels the need to give something back to his country of birth; hence a different recipe of sort, Rishi put together this time as he took to his latest culinary expedition. 

Partnered with Dilmah – a brand with a commitment to human service, Rishi will soon embark on a gastronomic journey with a group of underprivileged children at Empower Culinary and Hospitality School – a commitment which will infuse innovation and new thinking into the minds of future chefs being nurtured at the Empower Culinary and Hospitality School in Sri Lanka.  

The project will see Rishi sharing his expertise with the students of Empower School – Sri Lanka’s only WACS Certified Culinary Institute, which was established by Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando to offer the underprivileged an opportunity to rise above their circumstances through education and training on cuisine and hospitality. 

The chef will also set up the Cheek By Jowl Library which is equipped with some of the best culinary books, two work stations for online research with multimedia facilities for smaller groups, within the Empower Culinary School premises to assist the students.  

With an impressive culinary background and with years of experience, Rishi, now in his early 30s, started his career at Taxi Dining Room in Melbourne as a Demi Chef and went up the career ladder to reach the Sous Chef status. In 2011, Rishi relocated to Sydney with an offer to work as Chef de Partie at Tetsuya’s. It was there that Rishi developed a relentless attention to detail. He later moved to the award-winning Yellow by Brent Savage to serve as a pastry chef, a role that he enjoyed tremendously. 

Eager for more challenges, Rishi moved to Singapore to head up Maca, which received praises for the artful combination of seasonal produce and their flavours. More recently, a chance meeting with Loh Lik Peng, Founder of Unlisted Collection led to an opportunity for Rishi to call a space his own; Cheek by Jowl which means ‘side-by-side’, a meaningful throwback to be able to work alongside his wife, Manuela Toniolo. 

Commenting on the partnership, Dilhan C. Fernando, Empower Governor and son of Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando said; “The students are privileged to benefit from the culinary community Dilmah works with globally. We have had some of the most recognised chefs from around the world spending their valuable time with the Empower students to inspire and share their knowledge and we are grateful to them for investing their valuable time on these underprivileged youth.”

Dilmah’s Ethical Tea Society harnesses the enormous goodwill and creativity of the Global Dilmah family of partners, their network of consumers and well-wishers to benefit the underprivileged and the environment. In the past many volunteers, including world class chefs like Rishi, have dedicated their time to enrich the lives of those in need of support. 

MJF Charitable Foundation 



The MJF Charitable Foundation was established by Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando, to fulfil his commitment to make his family business a matter of human service. MJF Charitable Foundation, changes over 10,000 lives each year. All companies in the MJF Group contribute 10% of their profits before tax, to the Foundation. Merrill does not accept donations and believes charity must be forthcoming strictly, from his personal resources.

The Empower Culinary and Hospitality School (ECHS), Sri Lanka’s premier culinary and hospitality facility with World Association of Chefs’ Societies (WACS) recognition, is an outcome of the philosophy of MJF Foundation Settlor Merrill J. Fernando that, business is a matter of human service.  Founded on the principle that every individual has the ability to succeed and the right to that opportunity, the Empower Culinary and Hospitality School was established by Dilmah Founder Merrill J. Fernando to offer the underprivileged an opportunity to rise above their circumstances. The school uses an intensive training method, to provide selected students with comprehensive knowledge and international perspectives on cuisine and hospitality. The four month culinary course offered by the school is equal to the best in the world with visiting international professionals supplementing the Sri Lankan faculty. 

Culinary Empowerment spans the fundamentals of nutrition through personal discipline, English, cooking skills, information technology and menu planning. Students are selected from the applicants based on their enthusiasm for knowledge, their commitment to hard work and their desire to succeed as chefs.


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