Shelly-Ann Inniss talks to award-winning Barbadian chef Damian Leach about his passion for Caribbean cuisine and zero-waste cooking
In a waterfront restaurant, with fishing boats moored just offshore, foodies are enjoying well-seasoned roast fish with local veggies plated on banana leaves. Not far away, on the roadside, a visiting family savours a richly-flavoured pineapple chow exquisitely presented in a pineapple bowl. These are typical Caribbean experiences: from using the seeds from produce to grow crops and the peels for serving and composting — nothing is wasted.
What does zero-waste look like in a Caribbean context?
I believe the Caribbean has been doing some form of zero-waste cooking for many years. Barbados’ famous pudding and souse is the perfect example. Everything gets used! Some people use the pig’s ears, tongue, feet (trotters), tails — even the blood is used for the pudding.
Chicken is another animal that we minimise wastage with. There is more than just breast and legs. We do chicken stepper (foot) soup, pickled steppers, and fried chicken necks. In Barbados, the legendary Granny’s in Oistins has the best fried chicken necks.
Why is the movement important to you?
As a chef and restaurateur, minimising food waste is always a priority. It’s not just about being responsible and reducing waste, it’s also about getting the most out of the food I paid for! I paid for the whole broccoli. I didn’t just pay for the pretty florets. I paid for the stem as well, so why wouldn’t I want to find a use for them?
What does a sustainable food system look like for you?
Caribbean cuisine has to start with Caribbean produce. It’s not just fruits and vegetables but local meat — black belly lamb is a favourite. I have a simple herb garden too, but my breadfruit tree is the thing I’m most proud of. It is still small, but one day I will pick one and roast it with my kids.
What are your best tips for people who’d like to give this a try?
The Caribbean has the same temperature all year, so a lot of vegetables will be available. My favourites this time of year are breadfruit and mango. If you get the chance, try roasting a breadfruit on the beach with fresh red snapper, also in season. No need for plates as the roast breadfruit skin is a perfect eco-friendly bowl. Honestly, although you can’t go wrong with fresh mango salsa, my favourite way to eat mango is dipped in the sea and eaten with the skin and all.
What’s a good way to get children involved?
Starting a home garden is the perfect thing to do with kids to keep them busy. Plus, they are so proud of themselves when they taste something that they helped grow from a tiny seed. I spent a lot of time as a little boy in the garden with my granddad, and to this day I have never tasted a cauliflower like the one that we grew together.
Cocktail Kitchen’s executive chef Damian Leach is a culinary ambassador for Barbados and has promoted Barbadian cuisine around the globe.