After working for 15 years in a large London hotel, chef Brian
Benjamin finally decided enough was enough.
Armed with a lifetime of culinary experience and the ability to
convince banks to lend him money, he decided to open his own
restaurant - one that would reflect a childhood of spicy,
home-cooked fare in his Caribbean island home of Grenada.
Three years later, Mr. Benjamin is the proud owner of BB's
Crabback Caribbean Restaurant, a small eatery tucked away on a tiny
side street in a West London suburb. Business is good, and his
income is improving month by month. Most important, for a country
with a large Afro-Caribbean population and few Caribbean
restaurants, his clientele is a mixture - albeit an uneven one - of
black and white.
"My Caribbean cooking came directly from my grandmother, who
worked in a hospital kitchen in Grenada," Benjamin says in his
orderly kitchen, where bowls of tropical fruit compete for space
with plates of imported fish and curried goat.
West Indian food relies heavily on spicy fish and meat dishes
served with side platters of tropical produce. Vegetables abound,
like plantain, green banana, pigeon peas, dasheen (a starchy
vegetable similar to a potato), yam, and breadfruit.
But despite the palatability of Caribbean cuisine, it is not
nearly as popular in London as other ethnic foods, such as Indian,
Thai, and Chinese.
"That's the difference between Caribbean people and the
English," jokes Benjamin. "If you ask an Englishman about the
Caribbean, he'll talk about the sun and the sand and the beach. But
a person from the Caribbean will talk about the food."
Benjamin hopes to change all that. His food has captured the
attention of several London-based publications, which have praised
the authenticity of items ranging from seasoned parrot fish in lime
sauce to "crabback," his specialty crab with cream and two cheeses.
The key to his success, Benjamin says, is the quality of his
ingredients - and the fact that he does all the cooking except on
weekends when an extra chef helps out. "It's important to me the
message I'm trying to get across," he says. "The reason I entered
the restaurant business is because people are traveling more away
from home, and they need a place to come to relive their
experiences. So I try to keep the food as Caribbean-orientated as
His recipes, are "98 percent Caribbean" and come from a number
of islands. "The food is very authentic," says patron Agnes
Quashie, whose family runs a catering business that specializes in
Caribbean food. She was enjoying a fillet of red mullet served on a
bed of spinach-like callaloo, with a side order of plantains. "It
is very, very good," she says.
Initially Benjamin thought that getting fresh conch and exotic
fruit would be a major stumbling block, but that hasn't been the
case. He buys most of his produce from central London wholesalers
who ship it in from tropical climes, although he occasionally
relies on local suppliers if he runs out of a specific ingredient. …