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The Beach Gourmet: Ruwan Gunatilake: Prince of Pastries or King of Cakes?:

Some may describe Ruwan Gunatilake as both of the above, given that he has become the first choice as pastry chef for some of Los Angeles’ most prestigious catering organizations.

Born in Sri Lanka, Ruwan moved to Los Angeles in 1994 and attended The Culinary Institute of America. Ruwan currently resides just over the Santa Monica/West L.A. border with his companion, Sean, and their two dogs, Marchello and Olivier and has his business, Big City Cakes, located on Abbott Kinney Boulevard in Venice.

I recently sat with Ruwan and discussed a myriad of culinary topics, including his company, Big City Cakes, and what kind of functions he caters: “I do a lot of work for the Off The Wall Company. They specialize in movie premieres and industry functions,” said Ruwan. “I also create pastries and cakes for weddings and other private celebrations.”

I asked Ruwan if he has any favorite pastries, and he shared that he is especially proud of his Lemon Caramel with Butter Cream Filling, Hazelnut Crunch and particularly the Chocolate Decadence with Pomegranate Coulis.

“You have to love baking,” shared Ruwan when asked what suggestions he would give to aspiring chefs. “Never bring problems into the kitchen, be creative and put love into your baking,” he advised.

For someone who has won a gold, silver, and bronze medal for his artistry, creativity and impeccable skills as a pastry chef in an international, Five-Star Pastry Competition (presided over by a Swiss celebrity chef)’ worked in Napa Valley, at Greystone, the restaurant affiliated with the Culinary Institute of America, worked in Bavaria, at the exclusive Sea Hotel Hubertus, and at the world-class, five-star Colombo Hilton in his native Sri Lanka, has made the finest pastries for events such as motion picture premieres, gala receptions for British royalty and presidential fundraisers, Ruwan possesses a modest, almost disarming quality that belies his obvious talent and success in his chosen vocation.

When asked about future plans and ambitions, Ruwan beamed, “I would love to own my own cake and pastry café.”

This past Thanksgiving I was fortunate enough to taste one of Ruwan’s creations, a delicious Chocolate Pumpkin Cheesecake. My experience was absolutely brilliant, and Chef Ruwan has been kind enough to share the recipe with Santa Monica Mirror readers…Happy baking!

Chef Ruwan’s Chocolate

Pumpkin Cheesecake

1 10-inch round

Ingredients

Filling:

4 8 oz. pkgs. cream cheese, softened

1-1/2 cups brown sugar, packed

2 cups pumpkin puree

4 whole eggs

1 egg yolk

1-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

2 teaspoons pure vanilla

1 tablespoon rum, optional

1 teaspoon ginger powder

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Crust:

1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs

1 teaspoon cinnamon

4 tablespoons brown sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted

Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus baking time

1. Pre-mix the cream cheese, sugar, cornstarch and the spices, using a mixer.

2. Add pumpkin puree to the cream cheese mixture.

3. Combine eggs, egg yolk, vanilla and add gradually to the cream cheese mixture, making sure to scrape bottom of the bowl and paddle after each addition.

4. Add heavy cream and mix to incorporate.

5. Line a 10-inch pan with a parchment paper circle.

To make the crust: Mix together graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon and the melted butter. Press into cake pan, and pre-bake at 350 degrees for 5-7 minutes, until set. Pour the batter into the pre-baked pan and make swirls with melted chocolate (you can use a paper cone or a teaspoon). Using a water bath, bake at 300 degrees for 60-90 minutes, or until the center is slightly set. Chill, un-mold the next day.

Decorate with fresh whipped cream, centered with maple syrup and candied ginger, or any kind of caramelized nuts, such as pecans, walnuts or macadamias.

For more information about Ruwan’s creations, call 310.312.9627 or go to www.bigcitycakes.com.

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