“I am like the Trini-callaloo, made up of a mixture of okra, dasheen bush leaves, coconut milk, thyme, peppers, pumpkin, all boiled and blended into one.” These are the words of international chef Hasan De Four which would resonate with many of his compatriots, describing as they do how the food of the twin island state has followed the path of its people.
At age 18, Hasan arrived in England. Having been seduced by the flavours and aromas that emerged from his own mother’s kitchen, he followed a path into catering. After studying, he began working across a spectrum of kitchen roles, ranging from washing pots at a local school and prepping over 2,000 meals a day to fine-dining and casual snacks on the kitchen team of West Ham Football Club.
That early preparation paved the way for Hasan to follow his dreams. He said, “Even when I was at school at St George’s College in Trinidad as an eleven year old, I wanted to do food”. In 2009, he was chosen to travel across the Caribbean with celebrity chef Gary Rhodes for the highly anticipated TV series Rhodes Across the Caribbean, preparing the region’s best dishes with some of the Caribbean’s most respected chefs. This eye-opening experience bolstered Hasan’s determination to give Caribbean cuisine its due spotlight. “I believe that Caribbean culture, and our food in particular, is so exciting, vibrant, and offers so much diversity. Critics describe our food as unrefined, so it’s up to us to raise the standard without compromising quality, flavour or, most of all, authenticity.”
Currently, Hasan is involved with a number of business ventures and is a consultant chef. “Each of these businesses have their own concept, but the main thing is that all of them are about Caribbean food, and this means a lot to me,” he said. “I opened a restaurant with a school friend, based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, called Tropical Krave. It’s a beach front restaurant, five minutes from the sea, with food influences from Cuba right down to Trinidad. So you can come island hopping with a beer or rum cocktail.” More recently, the chef has been in charge of menu development for Spiced Roots in Oxford, whose focus is on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients that support the hundred mile diet.
“I have worked with Grace Foods, one of the largest distributors of the Caribbean food brand, and they play a major role in putting Caribbean food out there. If we as a people can own it, and develop it, the potential is massive – so I’m on a mission. I’ve worked in French restaurants, and the Chinese or Indian food brand is known globally, so my dream is to make a difference to the image of Caribbean restaurants,” said Hasan.
Another venture is Lime House, in Singapore, with business partner, Tobago-born Chris Morris. The country’s first Caribbean restaurant, Lime House has been ranked among the top 10 best new restaurants in the country and has received glowing reviews from numerous publications, including The Times. “Liming in Trinidad is when you hang out, socialising, so what we wanted to do with Lime House is to create an atmosphere where you eat, drink and chill,” he explained. “Singapore has a tropical climate, so 80 percent of the ingredients are already available. When you go to the market they have different names, but you recognise them as the same as in the Caribbean. We opened over four years ago, and it’s always so good to see 70 percent of Singaporeans enjoying Caribbean cuisine. We also give them alternatives on the cultural side, with reggae and soca music. In Singapore, the closest equivalent to liming is ‘lepak’, meaning to chill with friends.”
The spin off from Lime House is a fast food Caribbean-style eatery called Baygo, based in East Cheap, City of London. “We are fresh, and we are a new generation of Caribbean foodies, offering Caribbean diversity. A new healthy taste, not just for meat lovers but also vegetarians, a fusion of dishes representing French Caribbean, Creole flavour, fusions such as roti wraps but also Ital food for vegetarians.”
So where does De Four stand on the question of ethical inclusion and representation? “The difference with Baygo is that the concept is to empower and to be a pioneering restaurant chain. Our aim is to run a traditional businesses and create opportunities for others of Caribbean background who have the passion for the catering business,” revealed Hasan. He believes that one of the reasons authentic Caribbean food has not been more widely established is that there’s lack of continuity. “It’s important to pass on the knowledge, but also have a system of quality control to ensure the Caribbean dish is well represented,” he said. He also suggests that Caribbean restauranteurs could adopt the Standard Operational Procedures, which is the handbook for restaurants.
Baygo is the result of two years of planning, and opens in October 2017. The target market is the millennials, the trendy media and arts community, the city office workers. The fundamental flavours are authentic, but it’s put together in a way that allows the masses to savour the culinary flavours of the Caribbean without it being too spicy or heavy with carbs. If the customers point out something repeatedly then it clearly doesn’t work, so we adjust it. Our aim is to always create a culinary and cultural environment which people like and respect, and to keep them coming back for more and passing the word around to their friends and associates. The intention is to grow the brand in London first, and in three years we’ll have a chain of four to five. Additional logistics like delivery to offices start in the new year.
Hasan De Four is following his dream as an ambassador of Caribbean culture and cuisine. Happily, his mind-set is to also inspire and create opportunities for others as he passes on his culinary and business knowledge.