Chef Collin Brown brings Caribbean to Poplar
Caribbean chef Collin Brown is reaching for the stars, and he's hoping to get there via Poplar Dock.
The three-time Caribbean Chef of the Year fought his way from selling his distinctive cakes on the streets of Dalston to handling catering for Virgin Atlantic flights to his homeland.
He's cooked for celebrities such as Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons and catered for Kelly Rowland's birthday party. Now he's aiming to create the first UK's Michelin-starred Caribbean restaurant, having launched the Chef Collin Brown Restaurant in Yabsley Street.
The restaurant has been running on a soft-launch since June, but will launch officially on October 8.
Collin said: "There are a lot of people into Caribbean food. It's just not presented properly, and that's its downfall.
"In America, it's massive, but in London there are only about five Caribbean restaurants and the rest are just takeaway. It's really a no-brainer for me, but it's just a question of doing it properly."
Collin became the family cook at age eight, after surprising his family by whipping up a fine meal while they were in church. He took on a work placement at La Roose, and then moved on to the Cayman Islands before relocating to London in 1997.
His family's traditional cooking has won over stars such as Harrison Ford, who hired Collin's aunt as his personal chef after sampling a dumpling dish. But Collin discovered that finding a job in the UK French-focused fine dining industry was a tricky task.
He was told his qualifications were invalid as they'd come from outside Europe, but his food became a hit in the Hackney area, allowing him to make £1,000 a week on cake alone while cooking in his one-room apartment.
He was responsible for the food at The Lane restaurant in Aldgate's City Hotel, before taking the chance to set up his "upmarket modern Caribbean restaurant" in Poplar.
He said: "London is the food capital of the world, and the locals here have been giving me a lot of support.
"I grew up in Jamaica and I understand the food. The flavours are so different. The cooking is done with steam. It's more wholesome and you get more of the flavour. Nothing is fried in the restaurant, it's all grilled, steamed and baked.
"The difference between an Indian curry and a Caribbean curry is that with a Caribbean curry we extract the flavours of the meat with herbs, and the curry is a compliment to the meat. The flavour is more intense."
The premises has been empty since the departure of Indian restaurant Anupana over a year ago, but Collin says the response has already been healthy.
"I have a lot of customers driving over here from my previous restaurant, and I've been full for the last few days.
"Lots of the people living around here tell me it's all about takeaway. People work hard, so they have kitchens but they don't use them.
"Our takeaways are really nicely done. We have proper packaging and it's really different. We try to serve a complete meal, with vegetables, rice and meat together.
"When people come into the restaurant itself, what we try to do is find out what sort of mood they're in, whether it's a chicken mood, or a vegetable mood, or a fish mood.
"Then the staff can explain what's what, so everyone can get a bit adventurous."