Chatting with Chef Debra Sardinha, A Culinary Star

Chef Debra Sardinha was the Executive Chef at Hilton Trinidad, the first female captain of the Trinidad and Tobago Culinary Team for the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and owner of the restaurant, 54 Saddle. Chef Debra is also the winner of the first Madeline Kamman Award from the International Association of Women Chefs and Restauranteurs. Phew! We know, she’s done more than a lifetime’s work. Sardinha has also appeared in videos for the Culinary Institute of America and was the tour guide for Chef Ainsley Harriott in the Central Market, Port-of-Spain for the United Kingdom-based ITV series, Ainsley’s Caribbean Kitchen. Propa Eats had a chat about her favourite Trini foods (she can’t choose between curry and pelau!) and experiences.

Our ability to cook food that has great flavours and textures with a variety of spices has definitely made a mark on the world stage. 

PE: Firstly, what was your role in the ITV series?

CDS: My role was to visit one of our well known markets in Trinidad with Chef Ainsley and introduce their TV audience to  some of our local fruits, vegetables and spices. 

PE: Have you any idea as to how or why they picked Trinidad and Tobago?

CDS: It is no secret that our Trinbago cuisine is a very unique one. Our ability to cook food that has great flavours and textures with a variety of spices has definitely made a mark on the world stage. 

PE: How did the producers approach you or, did you reach out to them?

CDS: I received an email from one of the producers asking me to come on board  with this project due to the fact that they had seen some previous work that I had done for the Culinary Institute of America. 

PE: What are some of your favourite places to eat in Trinidad and Tobago?

CDS: I’m big on street food l get inspired from the traditional dishes that are offered and the various spins and interpretations that are explored on the palate.  

PE: What is your favourite Trini dish?

CDS: I don’t have just one it depends on my mood sometimes it’s a good curry duck or a hot chicken pelau with kutchulea, a well seasoned fish broth or, on the opposite end, scrambled eggs with mushrooms and white truffle oil—yum! 

PE: What was it like working with Chef Ainsley Harriott?

CDS: Chef Ainsley was a burst of pure Caribbean energy—we hit it off immediately. His roots are also from the Caribbean and we spoke quite a bit about some of the traditions that we experienced growing up that sadly are no longer around. He is a kindred spirit!

PE: What did you think was the most unique point about Trinbagonian cuisine that needed to be relayed in the series?

CDS: It was important to showcase the variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that we have to offer and how they are used in our diverse ethnic Cuisines. When we get the opportunity, we should embrace and showcase what is indigenous to our melting pot! When we talk about Caribbean Foods the first response  from a foreigner is jerk and we, as Twin Islands, and as a region, have so much more to offer so, the focus was to put our ingredients on the world stage.

PE: Did you try Chef Ainsley’s Grilled Tamarind Tofu with Callaloo Pesto or Coconut Chai?

CDS: No, unfortunately I had to head back to my restaurant ’54 Saddle’ on Saddle road Maraval.

PE: In guiding Chef Ainsley, what did you deem to be the most significant and important quality about our culture and food that he needed to both experience and comprehend? 

CDS: That there is a resurgence to get back to basics and that we do have a fantastic blend of flavours, textures and seasonal ingredients that make our cuisine unique and full and worth coming to our islands to experience!

PE: Would you say this visit was different from the exploration by the late Anthony Bourdain? If so, how? 

CDS:  In my opinion the premise behind the late Anthony Bourdain’s show was that you  get a group of people together over a favoured meal and end up unraveling multiple conversations where food would sometimes take the back seat.  When he visited a nation he highlighted pertinent issues and truly peeled back the layers of the onion that make up a country. 

Chef Ainsley’s concept deals with the foundational blends that make up a cuisine. He showcases the true essence of tradition and culture and shares that knowledge with the world. Both series are phenomenal in their own unique way but in my opinion, it’s two soley unique concepts. 

Stephanie Pulwarty

Editor-In-Chief

Stephanie loves food, coffee and travelling. Good thing all three come in handy for her job.

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