Guyanese food, culture ‘main courses’ of new US ‘Canje’ restaurant

- Guyana-born chef back home to ‘soak up’ local cuisine

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By Vishani Ragobeer

With five restaurants to his name and widespread recognition, a Guyana-born chef in the United States, Tavel Bristol Joseph will be opening a new restaurant in Texas, called Canje, named after Guyana’s national bird, the Canje Pheasant.

Joseph, who migrated years ago, has made quite a name for himself in the years gone by. He is the co-owner of Emmer & Rye, Hestia, Kalimotxo, Henbit and TLV – all food establishments in the US.

Later this year, he will add another course to his already packed menu of restaurants- the Canje restaurant. Not only is the name of the restaurant inspired by Guyana but it will feature authentic Guyanese cuisine.

“I’m very excited about this concept that we are going to put together to showcase the beauty of this country’s cuisine in the best ways that we know we can do it,” Chef Joseph said on Wednesday during a press conference held at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, in Georgetown.

But, just as the tastiest black cakes are made from fruits that spend enough time soaked in wine (or rum), Joseph is cognisant that he has to spend some time in his homeland ‘soaking up’ the cuisine here.

Chef Tavel Bristol Joseph, with his team members, at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre in Georgetown (Photo: News Room/ July 14, 2021)

As such, he and his team members – Alicyn Fink, Randle Egbert, Albert Richter and Kevin Fink – will be spending the next few days travelling around Guyana, with Ride Along GY, and indulging their palate.

“The idea for this trip is to definitely get the grasp of the food here and the different blends of the cuisine because I think Guyana is such a melting pot when it comes to cuisine and we all just know it as Guyanese food until you step out of Guyana and it gets a little bit more (dissected),” he said.

That dissection is evidenced by curry, Joseph’s favourite food and a dish that he can eat every day. While curry may very well be a staple Guyanese dish, elsewhere – especially in the US where Joseph’s restaurants are – curry may be part of cuisines from the Indian subcontinent.

“Growing up here, we just know it as Guyanese food – roti, curry, pepperpot, all of that mixed together,” he said.

And, it is this synergy that exists in the Guyanese cuisine – not unlike a good plate of cookup – that the chef and his team will be hoping to explore and indulge themselves in or, as he said, to “touch base on”.

As part of those exploits, the team will visit markets (“Big Market” is a must, Joseph said), local restaurants, a vineyard and other places that will serve up the Guyanese cuisine they want to familiarise their taste buds with.

Still, there is another crucial ingredient, beyond tasting and exploring that would bring their journey together.

“The other important part is the culture, the people (and) making those natural connections being inspired by people, by techniques that people are using when we go visit.

“The bigger part of this visit is to connect with the people more than just the food, we are using the food as a vessel but the idea is to connect with the people from Guyana and see the beautiful scope of hospitality here,” Joseph affirmed.

Further, he explained that any person can hop on Instagram or YouTube and learn about any cuisine they want. The secret ingredient, therefore, is being able to immerse oneself in the cuisine and the culture of the people who make the food.

With this new, ambitious undertaking set to take off later this year, Director of the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA), Carla James-Vantull is optimistic that the venture would help to boost local tourism, inviting people abroad to get more.

Meanwhile, when asked about the possibility of procuring ingredients from Guyana, like cassareep, to make those authentic Guyanese dishes in Texas, Joseph said that is a relationship the team is exploring.

Joseph also did not rule out the possibility of eventually establishing a restaurant in Guyana.

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