Initially, my mind was flooded with the usual cliched responses; to make money, to be successful, to fulfil my life, to work for myself. He then went on to say that he’s been reading a book on understanding how to market your business. He said we must first understand our why and then all future decisions must be based around the answer… My first thought was, what a BIG question. Huge in fact. My mind was boggled; I didn’t have an answer or at least that’s what I thought. So, I took it to bed with me and slept on it.
I woke up in the morning and just like that it came to me. To fully understand and explain I had to of course go back to the very beginning. I had to think of some of my first food experiences. I had to tap into some of my personal, nostalgic memories of food, such as, me and my mum going out grocery shopping. We’d stop to get beef patties in ‘Cocoa Bread’ in Brixton Market, often sharing one straight from a brown paper bag. If you’ve never had a patty from a bag, I tell you now, you must! If not a Patty, we’d have Gizzada Tarts, which is a Caribbean sweet treat, crunchy with coconut, cinnamon and mixed spice.
I also reminisced about being a young boy and spending my paper round money on ingredients to bake cakes and desserts from my mum’s shelf of cookbooks. Delia Smith being one of my favourites, which I would often flick through and mark pages like a catalogue at Christmas. I also remember watching on TV with awe the likes of Rusty Lee, Ainsley Hariott, Gordon Ramsay and, later in my teens, Jamie Oliver, who had the biggest impact on me with his programme ‘The Naked Chef’. I remember feeling a deep sense of inspiration, wondering if one day I too would be able to cook with such ease and flair.
I thought about the fact that my siblings relied on me to cook somewhat. Being the middle child in a single parent family of five, my mother worked hard and was very ambitious, so was rarely home for evening meals. That’s why, even now, I often question whether my duties in the home was nature, nurture or simply my desire to be near the kitchen.
I had to think about my family such as my Aunty Bev, who’s like for barbecue spareribs now in hindsight was a little excessive. Then, I cannot talk of great food without mentioning my Aunty Pearline, who was referred to as having a ‘Magic Dutch Pot’, as everything she cooked in it tasted delightful, in fact exceptional. It was credited with feeding all the guests that could turn up unannounced on a Sunday afternoon to see what magic it contained that day! I can still remember, as if it was yesterday, an oxtail stew that has remained on the tip of my tongue (excuse the pun) for about the last 30 years. She was a great cook. She cooked with such intention and care. A true influencer in my pursuit of culinary delights.
I had to think about the many skills my mum taught me. The first time we made dumplings together, she explained that for a great dumpling you must knead the flour ‘tight’, which in truth only made sense to me many years later. She also taught me that the dough you make for festivals, a sweeter, lighter, enriched version of a dumpling is just brought together with your fingertips to keep it light. The first time she taught me to make rice and peas, a Caribbean staple which I talk about in length on Instagram was one of the best gifts I have ever received.
I have fond memories of my grandmother and her roast potatoes (God rest her soul). To my mind they were cut incorrectly. She would cut them length ways, so they were flat in appearance. Even as a child this stuck out to me, as to this day you’ll only ever see potatoes cut sideways. But now length ways and flat is the only way you will find my roast potatoes cut in my kitchen at Fourteen87.
I had to think of my first family trip to Jamaica when I was about 8 or 9 years old. We stopped for jerk chicken on the roadside, which is customary on the island. The Jerk chicken was generously dripped in a sauce that I have tried to replicate and failed many times. I’ve never tasted something so sensational in all my 39 years.
I didn’t have to dig too deep to recall the joy I felt whilst studying for my chef diploma at Lewisham College some 20 years ago. I remember my very first class, dressed in my newly purchased chef whites and my basic knife set, as that’s when I realised I was home, that this is where I was supposed to be, doing what I truly loved. I had arrived!
Food is celebrated so much within my Caribbean culture. It is the centre of marriages, it rejoices at birthdays, blesses at christenings, mourns the dead at funerals, it sustains families and friendship groups together, it warms the sick and extends to those less fortunate and so much more.
So, I guess once I’d calmed myself right down and took a step back from the question which my business partner posed, I realised the answer was simple. It was because I must. It’s because everything I had done until now was in preparation for this day, it’s because it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do, it’s because I feel an internal responsibility to try to change the stereotypes surrounding Caribbean food. I want to refine it, I want to see it fused with other cultures and cuisines, I want to marry my classical training and my family teachings, I want to redesign it, I want to serve it fresh, and chic, with a smile. I want to honour that young boy’s dreams and aspirations. I want to do my part for our community, I want to teach people about our food. I want to dedicate my life to this, right now, right here in Catford, in an area where I grew up, serving food that I love.
I hope that answers the question?