In Conversation With Hari Govindaraj, Executive Chef at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives

Top luxury resort, Gili Lankanfushi Maldives is known for its intimate and understated style which embraces the natural beauty of its surroundings. This approach is translated across the resort’s entire offering including its dining experiences. In this interview, we learn from Chef Hari, Executive Chef at Gili Lankanfushi Maldives who has led the team to create a pioneering palette for the modern traveller. Read on to discover more.

Please tell us more about your background, your experience and the journey to your current position as Executive chef at Gili Lankanfushi?

My first encounter with food and cooking was from my parents, as my dad is a samosa maker in India. My very first job at the hotel where I started as a commis chef and thought that every hotel in the world had the same menu. I did not know what being a chef truly meant at the beginning. Now, I am very passionate with what I can do in the kitchen and would like to spread the word on how influential a chef can be and what it truly means to be a chef. My culinary journey began in 2006 as a young chef in India looking to broaden my experience and see the world. Fast forward to 2022 and I am proud to lead Gili Lankanfushi’s talented culinary team as Executive Chef, where I showcase my passion for plant-based, sustainable cuisine.

Photo by Aasiya Jagadeesh/ITP Images

·What can guests expect from the dining experience at the stunning Gili Lankanfushi?

Guests can expect to expand their palate and to be encouraged to try new flavours while staying with us. Cooking is magic, my aim is to bring the flavours to mouths just by imagining and pushing people to be adventurous in trying new foods/ingredients!

My southern Indian heritage plays a huge part as it is all about spices and flavours – being exposed from a young age to different levels of flavours and spices. This gives me a real opportunity to wow our guests as most of them are coming from the western part of the world and are not exposed to such flavours and spices.

You’ve recently launched a plant-based menu please tell us how this has been received by guests?

With the increasing demand for plant-based dishes and as people are becoming more aware of nature and more health conscious, it is important to have plant-based dining options available. So often, I would hear from guests that there are limited options for vegans or people who are on a plant-based diet when they dine at restaurants around the world and/or at hotels and resorts where they stay for their holiday. Nothing is more depressing to see than to have vegans or people who are on a plant-based diet to be limited on options for their meals. My aim is to break the stereotype of limited choices for these guests.

For frequent travellers, they were impressed by the number of options we have for people on a plant-based/vegan diet. Fresh, flavourful and creative dishes were often the feedback given to me on the new plant-based menu. These guests have also often asked for recipes, so they can re-create these simple dishes at home. The plant-based/vegan menu has also been well-received by guests who are non-vegan. Long after these guests have left from the resort, I still received personal messages from them, reminiscing about the experience they had at the resort when they cook it at home.

If our readers had to try one dish at Gili Lankanfushi, what would it be and why?

The Lobster Risotto is my absolute favourite at the Kashiveli Restaurant because it contains flavours from the local Maldivian lobster, finishing with goat’s cheese and cooked in lobster bisque. A highly recommended dish.

From the new plant-based menu, it would be the Eggplant Steak. This is a trump card for me. People who do not like to eat eggplant all fell in love with it after tasting it. Simple. Easy to prepare and flavourful. Eggplant is my favourite.

· What are your biggest challenges when catering to vegan diets, especially with your destination dining experiences available on the island? It must be tricky delivering hot canapés on the castaway platform!

Destination Dining Experience on the island is not much of a challenge as long as the experience is on land. The challenge would be for the castaway experience as we are not able to do hot canapes, or would discourage the order of hot dishes due to distance, transport time and amount of time the guests take to consume food. This affects the quality of ingredients cooked, heat of food cannot be retained, and freshness is not there. The biggest challenge of all for catering to guests with a vegan diet is for those who have dietary requirements that includes allergies to a certain plant-based food.

Please tell us more about your project ‘bucket list on the beach dining experiences.

The idea is to provide an exclusive out-of-restaurant experience around the island at their favourite spot for these guests, as some of these guests are long staying. The opportunity here is to create a personalised menu based on the ingredients they like. My team and I here are presented an opportunity to get imaginative with the dishes along with special plating and messages for this unique experience.

These inner experiences starts with a sunset cocktail at a tranquil location, dinner begins with a private chef and server, and the evening ends with meaningful conversations connecting with loved ones under the sky full of stars of under the moonlight on nights with a full moon.

Dining for the senses – a blindfolded dinner experience is already interesting as the name suggests. A 4-course dinner that allows you to appreciate the dining experience with all your other senses apart from sight. Your server will be engaging with you throughout the dinner with different activities testing your senses all night long. You will be surprised by guessing what you have eaten at the end of the dinner.

On a personal level, you have a huge commitment to ethical hospitality, please tell us more about this.

I would say to give what we would expect for ourselves when we are on the receiving end. In the hospitality business, it would make such a difference if employees were to put themselves in the shoes of the consumers. This is because while we are providing a service at our job, we are a consumer to multiple brands, products and services throughout the day. For example, as a consumer, I would want fresh food that is value for money. Therefore, as a service provider in the food & beverage industry, I have to do the same. Good habits start at the home for all individuals. The most important thing is to give respect to nature, life and the ingredients we use for food preparation and cooking.

What meal do you make yourself to eat after a long day to decompress?

Simple home-cooked food that I have been eating while growing up. A dish made by my grandma made of pearl millet – a congee-style dish cooked with tamarind, eggplant and southern lima beans.

Luxury is highly subjective – what does it mean to you?

Luxury to me means to be yourself. To visit a place where you can be comfortable in your own skin. Be Yourself.

What food trends do you predict for 2023?

More organic food. Continuous demand for healthier dining options for bigger health benefits. Along with the concept of choosing your food wisely, and knowing what is truly beneficial for your body. Understanding ingredients and knowing what your body needs.

What if your life motto, if you have one?

You will be whatever you think you can be. Your thoughts make your life.

If I can do it, so can you.

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