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Chef Roy

Chef Roy’s Kitchen – A Culinary Artist’s Lifestyle

Tomato and herbs smoulder in the pan as I arrive to experience an hour in Chef Roy’s kitchen at the Consulate Hotel, Main Street on 3rd August 2021. Crispy, soft cheese rolls are just being removed from the big ovens and set aside to cool for elevenses.

They are perfect.

You could mistake him for a ‘hairy biker’ or a heavy metal enthusiast. At the age of 17, Roy Richards decided that he wanted to go into the hospitality industry and become a chef. His Father and Mother both enjoy culinary competence, although he suggests his Dad is more adventurous when it comes to recipes.

He didn’t wait to complete his exams before enquiring about jobs and once exams were wound up, he was offered a job at Haute Cabriere in Franschhoek, South Africa. A fine dining establishment, so Roy’s training would be gruelling to meet the requirements.

In the early days, he worked with one of South Africa’s most famous chefs Matthew Gordon.

The team are heads down as there is much to do before the service bell goes for lunch at noon in the Consulate. I squeeze into the corner to avoid getting in anyone’s way as I enquire whether Roy runs a Gordon Ramsay style kitchen. Whilst things can get quite frenzied at times, especially for group bookings and Saturday brunch, the entire consulate doesn’t hear profanities being thrown around like noodles in a sizzling wok.

Roy removes one of his knives and chops onions expertly, no fuss. I think about my own onion chopping and the annoying moments when the onion splits and bits go hurtling to the floor. There are chefs and then there are chefs. Like any craft, the preparation of food also requires spirit for best creativity.

After working in various establishments, he joined the RMS St Helena in 2003. He was the second choice but got the job and there began his devotion for the Saints and the Island. With the odd bowl of soup being dropped twice before service (and he had to quickly rustle up another one from scratch) and a whole pot of lamb stew going on the floor just before lunch, disasters were rare. He talked about how well stocked the RMS always was, how he tried to re-use the ingredients which was never servedto limit wastage and how pleased Saint Helenians were with their island cuisine. Whilst first class dining was available, Saints were often just happy with their bit of curry, stew or pea soup.

As he stirs the tomato paste in the pan, we talk about the tastiness of such a simple recipe. It seems surprising that no one has bottled it up and sold it in masses yet. Or have they? Roy says that when he first heard about tomato paste he thought, “What’s so special about something that sounds like tomato puree?” Then he tasted it………

When the RMS sailed away for the last time, Roy secured a job working at the Mantis Hotel in Main Street. He talks about the logistical challenges of having the kitchen in the basement and how tiring it was for the waiters and waitresses. With no service lift, the work was exhausting.

At one point, Roy thought that he and his partner Michele might have had to leave the island when his time at The Mantis Hotel came to an end. Thankfully he found a bolthole in The Consulate Hotel and the food that he now serves is far more affordable and personalised, rejection is often redirection. He has good ventilation at the Consulate and this ‘Gentle Giant’ needs all the space he can get. He is extremely grateful to the owners, Hazel and Peter for their support in setting up shop.

Roy admits that he loves cooking so much that Michele has only ever cooked for him five times in the ten years they have been together. I’m sure many partners would quite appreciate this setup.  Lucky Michele!

Every afternoon, Roy wonders the shops to see what ingredients he can find. He never decides on a menu the day before (and we love that the menu is suitably-sized so that we are assured of fresh vibrant flavours every day). He only decides in the morning. He proudly shows me an island pepper which has been ripening nicely, his local supply chains is vital to the viability of the business. He doesn’t often go without the main ingredients because he honours his suppliers every week and uses the seasonal vegetables smartly. Maybe the world at large could learn something from those establishments that source locally and seasonally, maybe there wouldn’t be as much wastage. Unfortunately, the journey from food source to plate isn’t as economically or logistically simple as that, especially when the word profit pops up. 

Property rents and rates can at times be a kill-joy for businesses, hence why the customer ends up paying through the nose for good food (or not so good food) in nice venues. His favourite restaurant is a tiny little Portuguese cafe in Botriver, South Africa called Mannys. The food is affordable, well apportioned and truly tasty. Roy doesn’t like hiking prices when business costs slightly inflate. He understands customer loyalty and knows more than ever that every penny counts to a society which is ‘making ends meet’.

Stephen, Roy’s number two rolls the fishcakes perfectly, another delicacy of the island. Every country has their version of fishcakes but we are so fortunate to say our fishcakes are made with fresh, sustainably-sourced fish, packed tightly with herbs and fried beautifully. I often forget how fortunate we are to have access to prime tuna and wahoo and Roy suggests that he would like to work with a wider species of fish. On the odd occasion he cooks for vegans and always has vegetarian alternatives attached to his menus. He doesn’t advertise his menus through island media portals, customer satisfaction do the leg-work.

We laugh about how we islanders sometimes ‘cremate’ meat and fish, relinquishing the product of its natural flavours. Any chef will tell you that to hear a request for ‘very well done’ brokers a huge sigh. Roy loves cooking everything, there are no signature dishes, as long as the food is well received and brings people together to have fun.

Group bookings require a personal touch, so Roy will appear before and after the meal to show his appreciation for the experience. He gains as much satisfaction out of preparing the meal as the person who laps it up. Providing a service is so much more palatable when customers leave with a grateful heart. Although Roy is very glad of tourist trade, his focus is on local trade as it is the local market that has kept his business going through the challenges of Covid.

We didn’t realise this, but it is a year on this very day of my visit that Roy first opened his business in the Consulate Hotel. Roy is very keen to attract youngsters into the business and he suggests that he has offered to visit Prince Andrew School to raise awareness of how rewarding a career as a Chef can be (albeit a lot of hard work for sometimes small monetary rewards). Hopefully, he will get a response to his offer. He currently has Callum training as a chef. He has had a few people work with him over the years and really hope that more people (when they move on) will go and work in countries where their talents can be realised and they gain first-class experience with a variety of cuisines and establishments. We already have islanders working in top-class hospitality; could we see these folk coming back one day to start up their own businesses on the island?

Roy’s potential has not yet been fully realised on the island and he knows this as he suggests that in time, perhaps he could also immerse his business into food production for sale domestically and internationally. It is this lateral thinking which I believe will be the basis to a successful economy on the island in years to come. Roy doesn’t see his job as just a job, for him, its life, it’s the thing (bar Michelle we should highlight) that gets him up in the morning. I understand, I feel the same about writing these stories. Yet some days, I can’t find my ‘mojo’ and Roy doesn’t have that luxury with hungry mouths to feed.

I’ve written a few stories recently and every person that I have spoken to feels a deeper connection to what they do. Roy, like those other people that I have chanced to listen to is talented, humble, caring, generous, understated and innovative.

As Roy squeezes the cream out onto the pastries, the heavenly creamy smell mixed with the freshly baked aromas wafts right under my nose and I stand with an ‘Oliver the Twist’ expression on my face so that when Roy cuts the pastry in two, I’m a winner. Who needs other pleasures when you can have one of Roy’s delicious pastry extravaganzas?

Elevenses? “Yes please” or bookings via Tel: +290 22962

Wanda

The Wanda of you

Roads keep leading me back to crafts on Saint Helena, whether it is a painting, a song, a piece of furniture, an item of clothing.

On Tuesday 27th July 2021 I popped in to see Wanda who runs a small textile business at Forester’s Hall in Market Street, Jamestown. Wanda’s expertise spans many years and I can see by the organised chaos in her workroom that she is an extremely sought after service on this tiny island. There aren’t many now who ply the trade. I find this industry fascinating since I was absolutely useless at Textiles at school and I remind Miss Hazel who works in Needles and Pins that she tried her best in Pilling School to encourage me but the football always won.

Material of all shapes, textures and colours cover the tables, yet Wanda knows where to find everything. I didn’t know she also did upholstery, jewellery, table mats, bags etc. She unlocks the door to the little craft shop across the way, dust has gathered slightly where tourism has dipped. I reassure Wanda that her time will come again when tourists in larger numbers arrive to buy her wares. In a world where giant machines produce by the truck load, there is something authentic about her products.

On one side of the room sits the various machines which service her trade, one of them, I have seen the likeness of so many times in a huge sewing machine store on Portobello Road, London. The Singer. I can tell that this machine is more to Wanda than just a tool. There’s a special bond between all of the machines and Wanda, but this one, takes pride of place. Its metallic front plate is adorned with beautiful embossed patterns and similar decoration on the base plate. It is fascinating how so much detail has gone into a tool, yet when making this machine, the manufacturers must have also realised the benefits of beautiful creations for the end user.

Not only does Wanda provide beautiful creations, she also (when time allows) does group sessions and she suggests that it is here that she finds the real therapy in her job. Isn’t that wonderful that the purpose of sharing and passing on talent can be more satisfying? The only disappointment for Wanda is that much of these sessions are just for leisure and those who do take a real interest often leave the island and so the learning goes with them.

Her lacework is stunning. I ask her about a Ruby Cross which is so magnificently put together, the detail so rich, I would like to one day to gift a cross like this for a friend in London who is a Catholic and who I think may appreciate something like this.

There’s something about these tucked away workshops, wonderful energy persists within the four walls. Wanda is not about mass production or racing to get the job done. She wants to give the customer the best possible experience, so sometimes, with the demand, it takes time. Are we patient enough to wait? She can’t afford to employ people and there is the training which requires considerable time, time which would be lost in getting the work done, she has bills to pay like everyone. On occasions her family will offer her a hand and they have a giggle together at the same time.

Wanda likes her time alone, she enjoys people popping in and out but her lone working allows her peace to get on with the work, she only has her energy to navigate for the most part.

I like listening to Wanda. She speaks with so much passion. I ask her whether she has had any needlework disasters, like dropping bottles of liquid over particular fabric, she laughs. “There have been one or two jobs which have been tricky and I have had to fight with”, but no, generally, no disaster”, she confirms.

“I try to find a way, to get the job done to the customer’s request” she says. She speaks in second person as she says, “if the customer wants something then Wanda will try her utmost to get it done”. I gape when she adds mending sails for yachts to her list of jobs. That must take some heavy-duty needles and a lot of space.

Whilst Wanda has a Facebook page, she very rarely uses it as she is not completely comfortable with technology. There are so many of the older generation, especially in the wider world, who are being forced to embrace a system that they have long-since lived without. Their businesses rely on them knowing how to navigate the web.  Some do not have younger generations to assist.

Thankfully, here on Saint Helena, Wanda’s services are rendered mostly through word of mouth. She ‘beavers’ away in her little room whilst the rest of the world tackles the uncertainty of e-commerce. The only tool that really matters in that room is Wanda, without her expertise, the machines will not go, the fabric will not move locations, and sails will not flap about in the wind. She reminds me that a business can run for many years when we keep our expectations in check, when we respect our customer base and when we preserve our energy for the things that really matter.

Thank you Wanda for a truly spiritual experience.

You can contact Wanda here

Read more blog post from @Addie Thomas https://www.thegirlfromtherock.com/

tuna

The facts about the fishing and investor on St Helena.

This is a discussion that talks about one of St Helena’s richest assets which is fishing.

PQ trading St Helena has been endorsed as the preferred investor to undergo fish processing on St Helena.

Some of the local community and local fishers are not happy with the proposal offered, they have vocally expressed their views on how the process to select an investor has been carried out and as a result the SHCFA made a decision to launched a petition to call on the Government to terminate the procurement. (The online petition can be found here)
If we rewind back to earlier this year, a press release was published to offer the opportunity for anyone to submit proposals to invest into the Islands fisheries.

After many months of monitoring the timeline of this process, it seems that this is a challenging task for both official’s, preferred investors and the commercial fishermen of St Helena.
During the time it took to try an establish a solution to find the right investor, the local fish processing factory was closed and that decision caused some disruption and created many impacts to the fishermen’s lively hood and the community of St Helena.

Although many press releases have been published by the SHCFA there has been no open media discussions with officials or PQ trading about the proposal.

Shortly after the petition was launched on Friday the 24th July, I invited PQ trading to speak with the St Helena podcast to have an open discussion around some of the topics that is causing concerns with in the St Helena community.

The invite was accepted and today’s discussion with the director of PQ trading explains and expands on many areas of fish processing in St Helena.
I believe this is the first time that any one from PQ trading has joined the conversation openly to talk about the proposal and what’s recommended and how St Helena will benefit from the investment.
Note: that I have no commercial invested interest in fishing on St Helena today nor do I have any professional skills in the industry but I believe it’s important that great communication is key to any partnering in commercial ventures. However, my only preferred result is a successful future for the industry, meeting all legal and best practises while conducting sustainable fishing and the results improves the lively hoods of my fellow saints that live on the Island.

I hope you find this conversation interesting and engaging comments are welcome.

As discussed in the podcast if anyone who is interested in reaching out to P Q trading the  Email address is here 

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