Established in 2016, pop-up eatery Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites serves up traditional Sri Lankan cuisine and street food, alongside a unique offering of Sri Lankan-influenced Southern American fare. Founded by chef Samantha Fore, a first generation Sri Lankan-American from Lexington, Kentucky, the pop-up, typically set up behind Lexington’s Arcadium Bar pre-pandemic, was born after the very popular Sri Lankan brunches Fore hosted at home outgrew her dining room. The project is one of the few representations of Sri Lankan cuisine in the United States and reflects Fore’s own multifaceted culinary upbringing. Its menus include Fore’s spin on Southern classics like slow-cooked spare ribs and crispy fried chicken, as well as time-tested family recipes of sweet and savoury curries. To learn more about Tuk Tuk, Fore’s background, and how she’s manoeuvring life in lockdown, Something Curated spoke with the chef.
Something Curated: Can you tell us about your background and what drew you to a career in food?
Samantha Fore: I have a traditional marketing background education wise, and professionally I’ve worked in the music and advertising industries. I went back to graduate school and finished my studies at the height of a recession. I couldn’t find work, so I sent a cold pitch to a restaurant owner in Boston about his website complaints. His restaurants were my first clients — and got me far more involved in the food world.
SC: How was Tuk Tuk Sri Lankan Bites born?
SF: I was sitting at a friend’s bar talking about a brunch that grew to epic proportions in my tiny house. They complained they couldn’t get a food vendor and asked if I could set up for an event. After doing the math, I figured it was worth a shot. I thought night one was a fluke (2016 April) because I sold out of everything I had prepared. It was just the beginning.
SC: Your food celebrates your Sri Lankan upbringing within the context of the American South; could you expand on a few dishes that reflect this crossover for you?
SF: Yeah — a lot of my crossover dishes are things that sound good in my head — some examples? Buttermilk fried chicken with curry leaf salt, braised pork short ribs with a roasted spice blend, coconut curry devilled eggs… the possibilities are still opening up to me.
SC: What are you currently working on and how has the pandemic affected the way you operate?
SF: Right now I am working with a national non-profit called The LEE Initiative. Since the onset of the pandemic in March we have mobilised to feed hundreds of thousands of meals, and have funded local farms to strengthen their relationships with their restaurant communities. I’m also working on proposals here and there for various projects — and am developing recipes for some American publications.
My way of life and operating was dead in the water by the end of March. I had events booked through November of this year, all cancelled. I don’t know when I will go back on the road. I don’t know what the future of events in food even looks like. This all hit as I was beginning to find my stride, but I am adjusting and pivoting as quickly as possible to keep working — I am relieved to not have a brick and mortar at this time. I was in negotiations last year for my own space – after months they fell through — it could have been so much worse.
SC: What do you want to learn more about?
SF: I’ve been on a biscuit mission since the pandemic hit. Also, I have experimented with tamarind quite a bit. My latest quest has been cooking through the spoils of our community supported agriculture baskets — we have a bounty of fresh vegetables every week!
Images courtesy @tuktuklex