From being a pop-up pioneer to opening her own Sri Lankan restaurant, O Tama Carey does things her own way. “A reader, a traveller and a person blessed with imagination,” Gourmet Traveller called her, “but also a hard-working chef who runs her kitchens with rigour, and relishes the feel of a knife in her hand, and the roar of a serious wok-burner.”
Carey’s apprenticeship in kitchens was far from standard, as was her approach to finding work.
“The first time I knocked on the door and I walked into the kitchen there was just all these Japanese boys and they just looked at me. I was like, ‘Can I have a job here?’. And they just went, ‘No you can't’,” she told Good Food of her first gig at Sydney’s Uchi Lounge. “I tried again and eventually they gave me a job.”
Kylie Kwong also turned her down for a role in the kitchen at the original Billy Kwong – at first, anyway. (“I kept trying, and eventually she gave in.”) Then Carey turned her hand to Italian, heading her own kitchen at Sydney’s Berta restaurant, which she ran to acclaim from 2010 to 2014.
After taking a break and then dipping her toe back in the trade with a series of pop-ups and market stalls, Carey jumped back into hospitality in earnest in 2018, opening Lankan Filling Station, a restaurant in Darlinghurst in inner-city Sydney that pays homage to her Sri Lankan heritage. Plaudits followed, with The New York Times describing it as “a thrilling new chapter” in what Sri Lankan cuisine “means here and now”.
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