This interview was originally written by Andrew Gott, Community Manager at the International Quarter in Stratford.
Hi Del. What do you do in Stratford?
I own and operate Rhythm Kitchen, an authentic – and independent – Caribbean eatery at Westfield Stratford.
Where are you from, and where do you live now?
I was born just down the road in Forest Gate, and I now live in Walthamstow. I won’t tell you my age – a good looking man like me doesn’t reveal his age.
Of course. So what journey brought you to Rhythm Kitchen?
When I left school, I trained as a chef at hotels across London, including the Park Lane Hotel. I moved into all sorts of oddjobs, which lead to a job in television. I started off as a sound recordist (the boom guy), then in 2000, a friend brought me into his production company where we made television for channels like Bravo, the Discovery Network and National Geographic.
And how did that lead to opening a restaurant in Westfield?
Back in the 1980s, where Westfield and International Quarter London sits now, was a railway yard. In February 2010, Westfield was under construction and I thought there should be a Caribbean food presence. We pitched, submitted a business plan and were open in September 2011. The Olympics arrived in 2012.
What’s your fondest memory from being part of the Olympics?
It has to be meeting people from across the world, and showing off East London, London and Caribbean culture to them.
Your fantastic recipes – tell us a bit about the development behind them.
We tested everything on our friends and family, which was mutually beneficial – we would receive honest feedback, and they would be well fed. At first, they weren’t impressed. My brother told me “You’ve made better food than this before”, so we knew we had a lot of work to do.
Eventually the feedback gradually become overwhelmingly positive, so there wasn’t a light bulb moment as such, more of a total lack of negative feedback or suggestion. Our recipes for jerk pork, jerk chicken, jerk wings, the dry mix, the curry – they’re all original, developed by ourselves and secret.
For someone who has never sampled it, what is ‘jerk’?
Jerk is both a seasoning and a method of cooking. The seasoning varies based on region and family in the Caribbean but essentially always contains Scotch Bonnet pepper and pimento. If it doesn’t, it’s not jerk. The method involves a lot of smoking to produce succulent, tender meats.
What should someone sample at Rhythm Kitchen for the first time?
The ideal meal for beginners is jerk chicken, or curry goat – they’re the two big ones. I would serve them with rice and peas, and plantain… or coleslaw. They all work. People don’t think coleslaw would work, but it really does.
The ‘peas’ in rice and peas are actually beans, as when Caribbean migrants moved to the UK and couldn’t find the Gungo peas they used back at home, they began using red kidney beans. Just don’t do it like Marco Pierre White and use green peas. Ever. No garden peas.
Tell me what yourself and Ann (Del’s business and life partner) are most proud of, from the last 6 years?
The marinades that we created in our home, we’re now able to feed to people in Westfield, Stratford and beyond. To carry on the legacy of our British and Caribbean heritage. Without the love and support of the East London community, we wouldn’t still be here.
So… what’s in your secret sauce?
Well obviously that remains a secret, but we may give you the recipe to our most popular cocktail if you ask nicely – rum punch.