By Michelle Alles
We at BizNomics Magazine naturally chose this distinguished brand known as the Ministry of Crab to grace the cover story of our first issue and I am deeply honoured to be the one telling it:
When two cricketers and a chef came together to bring a culinary homecoming of Sri Lanka’s legendary lagoon crab to the local populace, they didn’t quite expect such magic to happen. Dharshan Munidasa, with his Sri Lankan-Japanese heritage and eternal drive to serve his guests with dishes made from the freshest and finest ingredients, began a journey that would have patrons clamouring to taste his iconic menu, overseas destinations welcoming MoC on their shores, and the brand even being one of his two restaurants to consistently make the prestigious list of Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
When the Ministry of Crab was born, the year was 2011 and it was a time that development was moving at a very accelerated pace in Sri Lanka. The rejuvenation of the 400 year old Dutch Hospital also played a very favourable role in the plan, the site being symbolic of Sri Lanka’s progress at the time, so the pieces knitted together perfectly to form an ideal location that guests could enjoy. Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene came on board to co-own and become ‘Ministers’ in this celebrated venture and the phone began to ring off the hook for reservations as word of the mouth-watering dishes spread around Colombo.
Dharshan, a self-taught culinary expert who prides himself on the fact that he never studied culinary arts, is no stranger to the culinary field. His restaurants, Nihonbashi, Kaema Sutra, and The Tuna & The Crab are already sought after eateries by many. For a chef who works so much with crabs, his personality is anything but crabby and he does a fantastic job of expertly balancing his schedule between all three restaurants. In his well-modulated and mellifluous voice, he credits his staff at all his restaurants who work tirelessly to bring about the success of all the restaurant brands. He is one of the rare few who truly gives credit where its due, thanking his staff by name at the grand celebration held last year to mark the Ministry of Crab and Nihonbashi being ranked in the Asia’ 50 Best Restaurants.
Kumar Sangakkara, a veteran cricketer and former Sri Lankan national captain and Mahela Jayawardene, a batting wizard and former Sri Lankan national captain, need absolutely no introduction to our readers. The two of them remain just as focused in their work ethics as they did in their cricketing careers which elevated them to the heights of fame. They have always concentrated on working with like-minded people with similar ambitions and goals, and it was no surprise that they were more than happy to be a part of the ‘Ministry’, which is an excellent blend of partnership and friendship.
Behind Dharshan’s pleasant and quiet demeanour, there lies a steely determination which has brought him thus far and made him the iconic figure he is today. This, when united with the perseverance and drive of Kumar and Mahela, made no better combination to embark on a journey that would take them to heights few can achieve. The Ministry of Crab is a celebration of Sri Lanka’s finest seafood, from the succulent King Prawns found in the rivers running across the island to fresh Clams and Oysters from the lagoons. The restaurant has been an been an essential part of Dharshan’s journey and this venture alone has gone further and is so unique that many dining cultures worldwide find it interesting and financially viable to invest in.
Dharshan is one of the rare souls who value the rich supply of natural resources that Sri Lanka possesses. Coming from a country like Japan that uses every available inch of space, he was fascinated with the large garden at his home and visiting the parks in Colombo, those of which were rare back in Tokyo. Outdoors, animals, fishing and other activities suddenly became more accessible and a part of him. The strong, individualistic Scorpio grew up respecting two food cultures and believing that fusion cuisine was not the best representation of what food really is. Never expecting to come this far in his chosen field, Dharshan’s journey began as a university student when he started cooking for himself as he didn’t like the cafeteria food served on campus.
After the success of Nihonbashi, it became quite clear that Dharshan had given tuna an exciting place on the plates of Colombo’s diners and it was not long before he decided that crab should follow. Mahela and Kumar, fondly known as ‘Sanga’ to all, told us that the idea for the restaurant was initially spoken about over a glass of wine at a meal and the journey since then has been incredible. Not without its challenges, as can be expected of anything new, the three ‘Ministers’ lived up to their characters, all three of them having learned much and come a long way in their individual journeys, and overcame all odds to create a must-visit restaurant in Sri Lanka and reap the sweet harvest of success.
“I believe in good ingredients making good food. The best representation of food is respect for ingredients, respect for handling them and putting the least amount of work into them to produce an amazing dish. We make food not as a meal, but as joy, as a passion. The secret of making delicious cuisine is simple: amazing ingredients, nothing else. Finding the best ingredients are not always easy, but the meal that they make is always worth it. Stating our individuality and delivering the best product can be challenging, but the end result is what puts Sri Lanka on the map as a culinary destination and keeps the world knocking at our doors,” revealed Dharshan.
Kumar noted that the journey of MoC has been a very exciting one “Sri Lanka is a beautiful island nation, which is reflected in the seafood available to us. Our oceans, unlike those in many Southeast Asian countries, are clean and this is why our seafood is simply amazing. For all of us, it’s been a very interesting journey and for me, this is the realisation of my dream to be part of a culinary experience and I couldn’t have chosen two more excellent partners to travel this road with,” he said.
“Sanga and I love our food and have always been regulars at Dharshan’s restaurants, so when this concept came about, it seemed like an interesting venture and a no-brainer for us to come on board. We are truly proud of MoC’s success and growth. You need to enjoy what you do and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We are in the process of expansion and we are excited to see where it will take us. It’s a journey that we’re relishing and the finish line is nowhere in sight,” said Mahela.
It has been a busy year for Dharshan with popup restaurants and meetings in various countries and brain storming with his staff and teams. There are seven restaurants to open in the next few months so there are even busier times ahead. Despite all that, he has found time to tuck a new venture under his belt, which has helped him realise how much he enjoys planning and designing.