Derek Gomes is a self-taught caterer whose skills are particularly in demand at this time. He offers the season’s best in culinary delights—pepperpot, garlic pork and ham—and he spares himself no trouble to ensure that his patrons are entirely satisfied.
Gomes’s career as a professional caterer began in 2012 though he says cooking has been a passion for the past 30 years. His passion is reflected in the intensity with which he speaks about his methods. For him, it is as much the process as the end product that matters.
Situated at Eccles on the East Bank Demerara, Gomes spends much of his time in the kitchen seasoning and cooking and, afterwards delivering orders.
This is a good time of the year for him. He is enthusiastic about Christmas cooking.
Hams, he says, are important seasonal delicacies. The process should not be rushed. Hams should be cooked slowly in order to ensure thorough tenderisation and the result should be a glazed, shiny work of art. This year, he is offering hams from somewhere in the region of $12,000 for a 6 kg ‘creation’. He reflects on the days when his grandparents prepared and cooked ham “from scratch”. He favours the pre-cooked Erin Farm hams.
Gomes enters into a discourse on pepperpot as though it were a matter of the most critical importance. Cassareep, he says, has attracted a reputation that is associated with the regions from which it comes. He talks you through the pros and cons of some cassareeps, eventually settling for cassareep manufactured at Moruca. It is, he says, “the purest” though he wholeheartedly endorses Major’s brand as well. The Major family business is reportedly more than 60 years old.
Without surrendering any trade secrets, Gomes talks about his methodical preparation of garlic pork. He attaches considerable significance to garlic pork as a purveyor of what he calls “Christmas smells”. The dish, he says, provides “a Christmassy aroma” which you want to wake up to. The meat, he says, must be seasoned beforehand but must be cooked on Christmas Day. Refrigeration and microwave cooking of garlic pork are, in his opinion, culinary sacrilege since it robs the environment of the aroma created by cooking in an open pan.
Though Gomes has always had a passion for cooking, much of his working life was spent in the insurance industry. His sojourn in the private sector began with an unsuccessful attempt to create a Roti Shop in Brazil after he had left the insurance sector. When that failed he was advised by a friend to cater from his kitchen. He took the advice and immersed himself in what he described as the “lazy housewives menu”; offering lunch to community members and a few close friends on Sundays.
Gomes says the catering industry requires considerable patience. Things can sometimes take a while to “pick up”. Usually, one or two monthly catering contracts would get you going. However, he supports those central pursuits by offering hamburgers on a daily retail basis at $200 each.
Derek Gomes’ modest enterprise means that he must go it alone and in the absence of hired help he alone has to endure the rigours of shopping, cooking and delivery. This Christmas he has had to reduce his work load by turning down event catering.
Nonetheless, he is pushing himself to make the best of his favourite time of year. March, July and particularly September and “slow months”, he says, and December is the month in which he seeks to compensate.
Born at Versailles and raised in the sugar estate community, Gomes attended West Demerara Secondary School. Some of his favourite childhood memories had to do with his father’s cooking. Traditionally, the family would enjoy a three course breakfast of ham, pepperpot and garlic pork every Christmas morning.
Nor are his talents confined to cooking. He finds time for the theatre and this year he was nominated for the award of Best Supporting Actor in Ronald Hollingsworth’s play 83 Million Gees. The theatre and the internet, he says, are his favourite past-time pursuits.
While Stabroek Business was invited to sample some of Gomes’s cooking he went on to talk about his passion for perfection in the kitchen as well. He has ambitions that have to do with taking his talents forward. “Cooking is science, cooking is physics married to chemistry,” Gomes says.