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Q&A: Maldives, What’s Your Flavor?

Between snorkeling (who can blame him?) and watching cooking videos, Nandakumar Dharuman is the culinary force behind Guduguda—our celebratory resto at The Standard, Maldives where traditional Maldivian cuisine is on the menu. We sat down to talk about his global journey to The Standard (which winds through India and Canada) and what it’s like to run a kitchen on a remote atoll.

He shared some of his favorite Maldivian dishes, his passion for ingredients and what makes food in The Maldives so unique.

Your culinary career has taken you all over the world. How did you end up in The Maldives?

I obtained my bachelors of science in Culinary Arts from one of the best institutions, and I received thorough training from a high-profile chef during an apprenticeship. After my apprenticeship, I did pre-opening a small cafe and restaurant in India then after few years I moved to The Maldives and worked for few resorts then I moved back to India for city hotel experience. I gathered good experience, and again I moved to The Maldives and worked for one resort where I got an opportunity to participate in Hotel Asia culinary challenge in The Maldives and received several gold medals with first prize. Later I moved to Canada for western experience and I learned Canadian, Mexican, American cuisines and later I’ve ended up in The Maldives again.

How would you describe Maldivian cuisine to someone who’s never tasted it?

I would say Maldivian cuisine is unique. The food is unlike anything you’ve had before. Maldivian cuisine has very few ingredients—mainly coconut, fish and rice. A few flavors come from south India and Sri Lanka, and traditionally some dishes are very spicy. All form of coconut is used for most of the dishes.

What are your favorite Maldivian ingredients?

Kopi fai leaves (Maldivian cabbage leaves), coconut, curry leaves, pandan leaves, breadfruit, pumpkins, valhomas (smoked dried tuna), rock lobsters, Octopus, Maldivian fishes like yellowfin tuna, skip jack tuna, wahoo, grouper, red snapper, Mahimahi.

The Maldives are remote! Could you tell us a little bit about how supply chains influence your cooking?

Yes, it’s remote island and it’s not difficult to find supplier, many suppliers are available for supplying the ingredients from all over the world. Still, it’s not like city market whenever and whatever you need to purchase, needs to have loads of plan, forecast, par stock level. 

The supply chain influence in cooking is to ensure that all of the necessary ingredients and supplies are available when needed. This includes ensuring that there is enough food to meet the demand for whole country, as well as making sure that all of the necessary supplies are available. I purchase mostly from locally available ingredients. But there are other sources in Germany, Australia, Thailand, Dubai, India and Sri Lanka.

What’s one dish our guests have to try in Guduguda?

Hanaakuri Boava (spicy octopus).

How do you spend your days off in The Maldives?

I love snorkeling because our reef is so beautiful. I used to play tennis. And I spend time watching cooking videos.

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