MLH’s Chef Publis publishes world’s smallest book

Saturday, 26 April 2014 00:28 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Cheranka Mendis Creating yet another revolution in the kitchen department, Chef Dr. Publis Silva on Thursday launched the world’s smallest recipe book – ‘The Royal Meals of the Last King of Sri Lanka’ – containing recipes of the cuisine that was reportedly served to Sri Vikrama Rajasinha who ruled the country from the highland city of Kandy. Only 1cmx1cm in dimension and five milligrams in weight, the book consists of 42 recipes and research and studies conducted over a period of 27 years. Launched on his 77th birthday along with five other publications at his ‘maha gedara’ at which he has worked for the past 57 years, Mount Lavinia Hotel, Chef Publis noted that it was his love for healthy and tasty food, along with his passion for taking Sri Lanka to the world, that made him work relentlessly to craft the book. The book was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Thursday afternoon. A needle eye-sized Japanese book of flowers called ‘Shiki no Kusabana’ with pages believing to be 0.75 millimetres is said to be the smallest book yet. 27 years of work “I wrote to England and had extensive discussions with the Priests from Malwatta and Asgiri to conduct research for this book, but I couldn’t find anything on the subject,” he said at the launch. “What I wanted was to present these age-old recipes in a way that can be prepared and enjoyed by modern families.” It was only during the last two years that he started making steady progress, researching from puskola poth (books made of ola leaves in the past) found in the library of Sri Dalada Maligawa, the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic in Kandy. “Within a year, I wrote this book,” he said. Making of the smallest book Why the world’s smallest book? – “I like to be revolutionary,” he answered, laughing, “I also have the guts to be a rebel. Hence, I did not hesitate to try my hand at this.”   He first wrote to England, again, with a request to publish this book – the answer came back in the negative. He then went to Singapore hoping to get it published and made. “I like to attempt the impossible.” Even when many publishing houses, both here and abroad, shook their heads at the thought of making such a small book, he never gave up. He found his saviour at Atlas Hall who agreed to somehow get this book done. “In two days I got a sample. What you see today is an improvement on that.” The next issue came in determining the cover of the book. He was told to not even think about having the throne as the cover picture due to its intricate details. However, that was what exactly he wanted. “I went to the museum and got pictures of the throne, and then worked accordingly to get it on to the book cover.” In fact 90% of the book was done by hand, he said. The story of Sri Lankan food culture His next goal is to publish the entire story of the food culture of Sri Lanka, Publis added. Anticipated to be launched on 24 April 2015, the ‘Aaahara Vanshakathawa’ will explore the customs, rituals and events that shaped the cuisine of the country, going back to over 2,000 years ago. He will find out the effects of the various invasions Sri Lanka was under, the migrant nationalities and their food patterns and how the ancient cuisine evolved over time.  For this too, he will review the various books stored at the library of the Scared Tooth Relic of the Buddha. He is also looking at introducing a booklet containing recipes for foreigners to prepare Sri Lankan cuisine to suit their palates. Another book will also be launched containing recipes and preparations of European foods in the Sinhala language. His strength For all the work done over the past years, there have been two sources of encouragement, he said. One is a blessing in disguise – his wife, Wimala Rajakaruna, and the other is the place he learnt his art – Mount Lavinia Hotel. “I focus on branding myself and promoting my name,” he shared, “my wife focuses on my health and wellbeing.” This hasn’t always been a good thing, he quipped, adding that his wife does a thorough job of questioning him when he is looking at yet another new venture. “But for me, this is where I draw my strength. I thrive under pressure; it is when I am pressurised the most that the best of my work comes out.” The hotel is a second home to him. Having joined the hotel in 1956 as a coal carrier, dragging the heavy gunny bags full of coal for the kitchen stove and scraping 75 coconuts for a meal with three others, he has made steady progress to get where he is now. “This is my first and last job,” he commented, divulging his thoughts to retire after all his books are published, “MLH is my maha gedara.” Pix by Upul Abayasekera