Guyanese cuisine and the essence of Restaurant Week

Cara Lodge chefs: Jocelyn Thompson Julian Yhip and Pamela Mc Farlane

These days, you get the feeling that an increasing number of Guyanese are prepared to ‘shell out’ good money to ‘eat out,’ if the menu is reflective of the best of the Guyanese cuisine culture. Not that we have become more insular in our eating habits; it is more a matter, first, of having come to a realization, over time, that Guyanese cooking at its best rates with the very best in the world and that in many respects when you eat Guyanese, you eat healthier.

Evidence of this is to be found in the remarkably animated responses of guests and eating establishments alike, who asked to talk about their Restaurant Week experience this year.

Explore, Eat, Repeat was the theme of this year’s Restaurant Week and oddly enough there is evidence that that theme has been embraced by many Guyanese who, these days, spend much of their time simply ‘checking out’ good food.

Herdmanston Lodge’s Darron Summer – Chef, Odessa Frank – waitress, Damon Crandon Restaurant Supervisor

Limited time did not, this year, allow for a grand tour of this year’s participating restaurants so we simply went, first, to the top of the queue to speak with Shaun McGrath, the former President of the Tourism and Hospitality Association of Guyana, General Manager of Cara Lodge and a founder member of Restaurant Week.

It may have been termed Restaurant Week but the wining and dining went on for ten days.  McGrath volunteers a compelling statistic. Over the ten days the Cara Lodge sold more than 1000 plates of food – and that was just for dinner. The hectic nature of the Restaurant Week schedule meant that they could make no provision for lunch. The ‘numbers’ for the ‘week’s dinners are good not just because of the takings that they represent but also because history suggests that after Restaurant Week there is a marked increase in patronage.

Last year, at the end of November, patronage jumped by around 25%. Most of the new customers were aged between 18 and 35, a statistic that tells McGrath that a  craving for food has no age limit. Most of the new clientele were, as well, women, groups of women, celebrating some occasion or else, just having a ‘girls’ night out.’ It’s easier with men, McGrath says. They are usually for less equivocal about their menu preferences. The wines are popular too. From the Cara Lodge’s standpoint the fizzy Pink Moscato was the favourite this year, a circumstance which he says pointed to the overwhelming youthfulness of the clientele this year.

Aside from his involvement in the business of Restaurant Week, McGrath has always been associated with its celebration in Guyana. It is, he says, “a novel way to raise the expectations of fine dining, allow persons to come and enjoy the environment and experience and at the same time get chefs’ creative juices flowing.

Here in Guyana, Restaurant Week makes particular demands of Chefs – including the demand of embracing the bewildering array of wholesome, healthy foods cultivated and manufactured here. The food ‘mania’ and the explosion of culinary talent apart Restaurant Week realizes friendly competition among restaurants with restaurant owners holding their menus close to their chests to maximize the element of surprise. This year, the Cara Lodge’s signature dishes were Pork Belly in a marinade of sorrel, thyme and spices, with ripe plantain puree and sorrel syrup. The popular main course was Petit Filet Mignon Steak topped with a crab cake, draped in hollandaise sauce, alongside rustic potatoes and chili butter with mixed greens. For dessert the Cara offered Banana Sushi rolled in dark chocolate, topped with pistachios and coconut flakes and raspberry sauce for dipping.

 McGrath says that once a dish is found to be popular among guests during Restaurant Week it goes on the regular menu, He says that Restaurant Week can play an important role in launching new dishes.

The Herdmanston Lodge was the second of the two restaurants visited by Stabroek Business during the Week. Dellon Crandon, the Restaurant Supervisor echoed McGrath, showering praises on the success which he judged Restaurant Week to be. This is the third year that the Herdmanston Lodge has participated in Restaurant Week. Crandon, a Carnegie School of Home Economics-trained Restaurant Supervisor told Stabroek Business that the Restaurant served close to 1000 meals during Restaurant Week 2018. On a regular day they would serve about sixty lunches and dinners,

Most of their guests were Guyanese. Lunches were offered at $2,000 and dinner at $5,000. During the week the Obikwa Natural Sweet Red Wine was the favoured wine amongst the patrons. Among the standout dishes were the Cassava Tostones with shrimp, beef or chicken and cool cucumber wrap with garden salad with a vinaigrette dressing. The main course on offer was Parmesan Crusted Baked Snapper.

The food apart, there was a pleasing ambience about the Herdmanston Lodge made even more delightful by the occasional outbursts of restrained but vigorous laughter from a group enjoying what appeared to be a holiday get together. On the whole there was a compelling element of intimacy. It was a night on which Guyanese cuisine more than did justice to Restaurant Week.

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