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COLUMN: Chef has long-term vision for Tent Kitchen and Bar (8 photos)

Dave Palarajah has already transformed local cuisine, but he's just getting started

When Dave Palarajah first laid eyes on the building and property at 6273 County Rd. 169 in Ramara, he saw potential — not just for him, but for the next generation of cooks and chefs.

At first, though, it was just him.

When he opened Tent Kitchen and Bar, he was the only one working there for the first three months — cooking, cleaning, serving. The works.

Reality hit: He needed help. That’s when his wife, Deepa Kandee, stepped in.

Nearly two years later, the team has grown to include about 10 people. Good thing, too, because Tent has become known as one of the best restaurants in the area.

It’s grown faster than Palarajah could imagine, but it’s really no surprise to anyone who has tasted his food and experienced the service at Tent.

The restaurant’s reputation has been well earned, cemented by Palarajah’s culinary prowess, creativity, and commitment to quality ingredients — many of them from local producers.

He tweaks the menu often, keeping customers intrigued while still offering some staples, like the burger and Tent’s original salad — both among the restaurant’s best sellers.

One of the latest additions to the menu is called land and sea rice, described as having saffron short-grain rice, boneless chicken thigh, chorizo, octopus, tiger shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari, peas, soffritto, garlic aioli, and lemon. It’s a lot of food. Share it with friends.

Specials are another of Palarajah’s specialties. This weekend, it’s octopus with roasted butternut squash purée, fried chorizo, roasted shallots, broccolini, and a smoked almond sauce.

The chef didn’t want to pigeonhole the place by offering a specific style of cuisine. You’ll find influences from around the world on his menu.

“Anything goes, as long as it’s good,” Palarajah says.

It’s clear he likes to change things up, and that extends beyond the menu. He has a long-term vision for Tent that includes a pizzeria (he currently serves pizza on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only), a wine bar, a butcher shop, a bakery, and a winter bar to cater to snowmobilers.

Palarajah also wants to provide opportunities for youth. He wants those with a strong work ethic to have a chance to gain experience in the business. Ultimately, he’d like to see them run their own sort of business on site, like a chip truck.

“I grew up in a business household. My mom had her own business, and she struggled,” he said.

Palarajah spent his early years in his home country of Sri Lanka before the family moved to Canada. When he was about 10 years old, he began working for his mother.

“When I see kids with huge potential, they remind me of me when I was that age,” he said.

His plans for the future of Tent and what it can do for the community and local youth are ambitious, and he expects it will take about a decade for his vision to fully materialize.

For now, his main focus is on the present, preparing some of the best food this region has to offer.

Menus and more can be found on the Tent Kitchen and Bar website. Follow on Facebook and Instagram to be tempted by photos like the ones above.

The good stuff

Most popular: Tent’s original salad, burger, Brussels sprouts, prime rib sandwich

Dave Palarajah’s favourite: same as the most popular, which makes sense

My favourite: garlic shrimp, burger, and, honestly, whatever is put on the table

Nathan Taylor’s local food and drink column appears every other Saturday.

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Nathan Taylor

About the Author: Nathan Taylor

Nathan Taylor is the desk editor for Village Media's central news desk in Simcoe County.
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