LONDON (Reuters) - Anthony Cumberbatch is setting new standards for Caribbean food at the newly opened Bubba's Restaurant in Tulse Hill. Named the ‘Best Caribbean Chef in the UK' in 2006, Cumberbatch has trained at the Savoy and the Ivy, and he's also cooked for Mick Jagger and George Clooney. Combining his Michelin-star training with the tricks he learned growing up on a farm in Barbados, Cumberbatch is spicing up the Caribbean food scene in London.
Q: Why have you chosen to specialize in Caribbean food?
A: I've always looked at Caribbean cuisine and you mainly get takeaways. They do good food but to me, Caribbean chefs aren't really put on the map properly for their food, so I wanted to do something different. I worked at the Caribbean Scene in the Docklands and from there I opened up my own place called Bamboo Grove in Croydon but that was always a bit rocky because we opened during the recession so we had to close. Caribbean food has to done in a certain way. You've got famous Italian food, you've got the French but not Caribbean.
Q: What's your experience with Caribbean food?
A: I was born in Dulwich and I got sent to Barbados when I was one. I grew up with my grandparents and my grandmother used to cook your sweetbreads, cakes, jerk chicken - she used to cook all of the different dishes; how they cook in Barbados is different from the Jamaican style. My granddad as well, he had a farm so we used to have cows, pigs, chickens, rabbits, goats, sheep. He also used to be a butcher - he did his butchering on the weekend and he'd sell the meat to the locals and then we'd go to church. I was bought up on fresh food so I was always around good cooking.
Q: How do you bring your training in Michelin-starred restaurants to your cooking?
A: My food is a Caribbean cuisine but I've mixed it up with French. At the end of the day it's all about presentation - the food needs to look good, it needs to look like art. So I've mixed and matched certain flavors and styles. For example I've got jerk pork which I've mixed with beetroot ravioli and a dash of trout roe vinaigrette which no one would think about putting together. Normally if you go to Caribbean restaurants you get rice and beans which go on the same plate and then a salad. I hate flat food. I like to work up and across the place and serve sides in separate dishes.
Q: What inspired you to be a chef?
A: I left school and I thought to myself, what can I actually do? I'm thinking, hmm hairdressing? Or catering? I did catering at college and I loved it. Before that I did home economics at school and I blew up a soufflé in the oven - I knew I had to get better so that's why I did it. I did work experience at the Savoy hotel. I actually went through the wrong door. I was meant to go to Simpson's in the Strand, which is the first door but I walked into the second door. I thought I was meant to be there until my tutor rang me up said, ‘where are you?' I said, ‘I'm here, at the Savoy.' He said ‘no you're meant to be in the Savoy company at another restaurant.' So I had to apologize to the chefs but they said I could stay. It was a great opportunity. I saw 150-odd cutlets go straight in the bin there because they were rubbish - I really learnt about standards.
Q: Why have you chosen Tulse Hill for Bubbas?
A: It was really the choice of Antoinette. Tulse Hill is not a bad little spot, it's close to Dulwich where I was born so you've got a mixture of white, black, Indian (people). Last night we had a full restaurant. It was mainly English people at the tables which I quite like because it's about getting people used to our cuisine. It's my hope to change people's attitudes about Caribbean food because I think some of the restaurants can let you down. The service needs to be good or you might as well just order a Big Mac.
Q: What's your take on the traditional goat curry then?
A: Well I love goat curry. It's one of my favorite dishes on the menu. You have to marinate the meat for 24 hours and then add more spices when you cook it. I serve it in tuille basket with edible flowers, which is definitely a bit different.
Bubbas Restaurant: 7a Station Rise, Tulse Hill, London SE27 9BW. www.bubbasrestaurant.co.uk/
Anthony Cumberbatch's Jerk Beef Wellington recipe
1 kg of beef fillet 3 tbsp olive oil 250g/9oz chestnut mushrooms 50g/2oz butter 1 large sprig fresh thyme 100ml/3/5fl oz dry white wine 12 slices prosciutto 500g/1 lb 2 oz pack puff pastry, thawed if frozen A little flour, for dusting 2 egg yolks beaten with 1 tsp water ½ onion diced 2 cloves chopped garlic For Jerk seasoning: 1 tbsp of all spice (ground) 1 hot pepper (scotch bonnet) 2 spring onions ½ onion (chopped) 1 garlic clove 1 tsp of ginger 1 tsp of thyme ¼ tsp of nutmeg ¼ tsp cinnamon ¼ tsp black pepper ½ tbsp limejuice 2 tbsp vegetable oil
In a blender or food processor blend all ingredients to a smooth paste. Rub the jerk marinade onto the beef fillet and place to one side.
Heat oven to 220C/fan 200C/gas 7. Sit the 1 kg beef fillet on a roasting tray, brush with 1 tbsp olive oil. Then roast for 15 mins for medium-rare. Remove from the oven to cool, then chill in the fridge for about 20 mins.
While the beef is cooling, chop chestnut (and wild, if you like) mushrooms as finely as possible so they have the texture of coarse breadcrumbs. You can use a food processor to do this, but make sure you pulse-chop the mushrooms so they don't become a slurry.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pan and fry the mushrooms on a medium heat. Add the fresh thyme, for about 10 mins stirring often, until cooked. Season the mushroom mixture.
Add the dry white wine and cook for another 10 mins until all the wine has been absorbed. The mixture should hold its shape when stirred. Remove the mushroom duxelle from the pan to cool and discard the thyme.
Overlap two pieces of cling film over a large chopping board. Lay the slices of prosciutto on the cling film, slightly overlapping, in a double row. Spread half the duxelles over the prosciutto. Sit the fillet on it and spread the remaining duxelles over.
Use the cling film's edges to draw the prosciutto around the fillet. Then roll it into a sausage shape, twisting the ends of cling film to tighten it as you go. Chill the fillet while you roll out the pastry.
Dust your work surface with a little flour. Roll out a third of the puff pastry to a 18 x 30cm strip and place on a non-stick baking sheet. Roll out the remainder of the puff pastry to about 28 x 36cm.
Unravel the fillet from the cling film and sit it in the centre of the smaller strip of pastry. Beat the egg yolks and brush the pastry's edges, and the top and sides of the wrapped fillet.
Using a rolling pin, carefully lift and drape the larger piece of pastry over the fillet, pressing well into the sides. Trim the joins to about a 4cm rim. Seal the rim with the edge of a fork or spoon handle. Glaze all over with more egg yolk.
Using the back of a knife, mark the beef Wellington with long diagonal lines taking care not to cut into the pastry. Chill for at least 30 mins and up to 24 hrs.
Heat oven to 200C/fan 180C/gas 6. Brush the Jerk Beef Wellington with a little more egg yolk and cook until golden and crisp - 20-25 mins for medium-rare beef.
Allow to stand for 10 mins before serving.
Editing by Paul Casciato