British Columbia

New flavours on the radar as navy kitchens aim to better represent diversity of force

The military leadership at the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt, B.C., is introducing new flavours to the navy kitchen to better reflect the diversity of the force.

Culinary team at CFB Esquimalt recently had lessons from Sri Lankan cookbook author

Members of CFB Esquimalt learned how to prepare Sri Lankan dishes this past week. (Submitted by the Canadian Forces)

The leadership at the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt, B.C., is introducing new flavours to the navy kitchen to better reflect the diversity of Canada and the navy itself. 

Base Commander Sam Sader said the idea came from having members of the defence team from various different backgrounds.

"We have members from many various cultural backgrounds and we want to make sure that our menus are more representative of those defence team members," said Sader. 

The current menu on base includes a range of options including Indian, Moroccan, Italian and Mexican dishes, and this week members at the base learned how to make items of Sri Lankan and Lebanese cuisine that could be possible additions to the menu.

As part of the process, the team received lessons from cookbook author Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama, who is of Sri Lankan descent. 

Samarakoon-Amunugama said while there is a large Sri Lankan community in Canada, it's rare for her to see her cuisine outside her home. 

Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama provided lessons in Sri Lankan cooking to members of CFB Esquimalt. (Submitted by the Canadian Forces)

She says her book, Milk, Spice and Curry Leaves, is one of the first Sri Lankan cookbooks published by a North American publisher. 

"Until quite recently, there wasn't a palate for it. You know, there wasn't an interest in Sri Lankan cooking, even though there was a large diaspora," she said.

She says initiatives like the one the navy is undertaking are important.

"It's a delicious food and it's been far too long for it to have not been noticed. So for it to be acknowledged by an institution as large as the Royal Canadian Navy ... and say it is part of our menu now, it's amazing," she said.

A dish prepared by cookbook author Ruwanmali Samarakoon-Amunugama. (Submitted by the Canadian Forces)

By incorporating different flavours like these into their menus, she says the navy is creating a more welcoming space. 

"That's what we have to work on, is creating a normality around diversity [so that it's] not something that's a novelty."

Master Sailor Ryan Eves, a cook for CFB Esquimalt, says the culinary staff don't often get the opportunity to actually learn traditional cooking skills like the ones shared by Samarakoon-Amunugama.

"What we learned from the spices and the herbs was amazing because we don't use a lot of those spices and herbs on a day-to-day basis," Eves said. "By learning the actual technique in the ways and the process of doing it, it was a good learning experience for us."

The Canadian Armed Forces says while the formal inclusion of new menu items goes through a national vetting process, cooks on the base can incorporate themed meals in their menus from time to time to incorporate what they've learned this week.

Listen to the segment on CBC's All Points West:

Food is probably one of the best gateways to get familiar with another culture. That's why the military leadership at the Canadian Forces Base in Esquimalt are shaking things up in their kitchen with food diversity week. The idea is to reflect the diversity of Canada as well as the navy itself. They kicked it off with some lessons from a Sri Lankan cookbook author and Rohit Joseph paid a carefully distant visit to the kitchen at CFB Esquimalt to find out more. 8:02

With files from All Points West

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