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Thompson elevating T&T cuisine
When Rondell Thompson was seven years old, he would follow his mother around the kitchen, learning as she cooked macaroni pie, stewed chicken and "roast bake."
There was just something about what his mother was doing, the transformation of market goods into delicious meals that fascinated him. He wanted to learn and with the inquisitiveness of most children, asked questions, observed and started imitating.
"I remember in standard one, my teacher asked the class to name our favourite meals. Almost everybody said pizza or hot dogs and I said roast bake," Thompson said in an interview last week.
"When the teacher asked why roast bake, probably thinking it was strange that I had picked it, I remember telling her I knew how to make it and listing all the ingredients and telling her how to put everything together."
That was when Thompson was seven and attending St Crispin's Anglican Primary School.
Since then, he transitioned from St Crispin's to Tranquility Secondary School, then graduated with an associate degree in Culinary Management from the T&T Hospitality and Tourism Institute (TTHTI).
Earlier this year, he gained the title of this country's National Junior Chef for 2017.
"I only found out T&T had a culinary team in 2016. A friend of mine, Brandon Maharaj, he was the National Junior Chef of the year 2016, told me about it.
"Last year the team went to Miami and did really well and he kept encouraging me. I felt that with school and work I might not have the time."
A week before registration ended, Thompson again spoke to his friend and was further encouraged by one of his lecturers.
He signed up, with few expectations, competing against four other students at his school.
The students were given three secret ingredients and had two hours to create an entrée with beef, Angostura bitters and shrimp.
Thompson made a geera spice beef sausage with a coconut stew sauce, a chadon beni crested shrimp with a citrus butter sauce, a provision fondue and geera infused vegetables, and a plantain jam.
'I love using local ingredients'
He won the competition and later went to Miami with the national culinary team as the junior chef for the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA’s) Taste of the Caribbean Culinary Competition.
Thompson competed against 15 other junior chefs.
"They gave us a protein as the ingredient and we had to create a meal around it. They gave me beef and red snapper.
"I did a geera spice beef culotte with a coconut stew sauce, a ginger infused red snapper with a chadon beni chimichurri and a provision tart, a tamarind glaze slaw and a roasted tomato jam and nutmeg pumpkin puree."
Thompson said he loves using local ingredients.
"We are so accustomed using strawberries but the same thing you can use a strawberry for in the kitchen you can use a guava, the same way you can have mashed potatoes, you can have mashed cassava."
He won a gold medal for the team.
Today, Thompson is working full-time for a company which prepares pre-packaged healthy food options and is back to school at TTHTI.
"I always knew I would be a chef but I also wanted to do different things. I wanted to be an accountant, a bank teller. I wanted to plan events and to be a mathematics teacher."
Thompson's main goal now is to gain experience and build his professional brand.
Thompson said his other goal was to elevate local cuisine through his work.
"Instead of the normal curry chicken and pelau, I want to present it in a way that is attractive to the international market."
Thompson's love of local dishes and ingredients is something that translates into his cooking.
"A lot of these fine dining restaurants, they do Italian, Mediterranean, there is hardly anyone in fine dining that takes Caribbean food and presents it like that. That’s what I want to do. Anytime I have an exam or I have to cook for someone, I usually do local cuisine presented in a way many people haven’t seen before."
His examples were a play on bake and saltfish that substituted coconut crepes for the bake or a pelau arancini instead of regular pelau.
"Instead of pelau, I’ll do like a pelau arancini, so you make the pelau separate and stew the chicken separately and shred it so it ends up being a rice ball with chicken in the centre.
Still, despite having a ton of recipes in his cooking arsenal, Thompson's favourite thing to eat is stewed chicken.
"I love to eat it. I can eat a bowl of stew chicken by itself."
The Sunday Guardian asked Chef Rondell to share a recipe with our readers using mostly local items to create a meal. This is the recipe he shared.
Portions: 4 people
• 6oz dasheen (large dice)
• 6oz yam (large dice)
• 4oz sweet potato (large dice)
• 1 egg
• ½ cup milk
• 1oz onion ( small dice)
• 1 pimento (fine chop)
• 3 garlic cloves (mince)
• 1 bundle chadon beni (fine chop)
• 1tsp Salt
• 1tp black pepper
• 1tsp all purpose seasoning
• 1tbsp vegetable Oil
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. In salted boiling water, blanch the dasheen, yam and sweet potato one at a time until they are tender.
3. Whisk the egg and milk in a mixing bowl and season to taste.
4. In a sauté pan on medium heat, add the oil and lightly sauté the fresh seasoning.
5. Combine the sautéed seasoning and provision in the mixing bowl with the eggs. Mix until uniform.
6. Pour the mixture into a greased baking pan and place in the oven for 10 minutes.
7. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then slice and serve.