Sunday 20 August, 2017

Chef Ca-el Seebaran brings gourmet catering to East Trinidad

When people in Trinidad talk about having a nice meal, they usually mean heading to Port-of-Spain or San Fernando to sit at a high-end restaurant for a few hours, order off a menu, then go home.

Monday to Friday, lunch is a much more pedestrian affair – one-pot meals, left overs, quick sandwiches or cheap fast food. Chef Ca-el Seebaran doesn’t think that we should accept this way of life.

“Trinidad and Tobago has so many delicious flavours and spices to play with,” Seebaran said. “We’re as much of a food destination as New York. Why shouldn’t we have as many high-quality, delicious options for everyday gourmet food?”

His new catering company, The House of El, aims to do just that. The company provides a daily lunch service to east Trinidad, featuring two menus that focus on local flavours in international dishes.

Donburi means rice bowl in Japanese, but Chef Seebaran’s TT$45 Donburi menu allows patrons to choose between bases such as rice and provision mash, and top it with items such as cornmeal crusted fish, wilted greens in coconut milk and mofongo, a Puerto Rican mashed fried plantain dish. Seebaran adds roasted garlic, coconut milk and chadon beni to his mofongo to make it ‘moreish," he said.  

The Excalibur menu features pricier proteins such as lamb or shrimp as the star of more gourmet-type meals like Italian ragus or Thai noodle salad for TT$60. 

“We’re also focusing a lot on doing intimate dinners for between two to 20 people. I design a customised menu for you, between six to 12 courses, where the food becomes an experience,” the 35-year-old chef said.

Clients have hired Chef Seebaran for birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions to wow them with his fine dining menus, served and explained by the chef himself. Meals usually start at about TT$400 per person, depending on the menu and location.

“We’ve been hosting dinners in some beautiful locations like the Ajoupa Gardens in Freeport to give patrons the whole nine yards in terms of ‘dining out’ in a gorgeous private location. We’ve also set up dinners at home for couples, so that they could enjoy a romantic meal that no one has to prepare. One client is already planning a Christmas dinner party at home!”

Seebaran has been advocating for making good food accessible to a wider range of people for a long time. He also believes strongly in using local flavours as the star in fine dining. As he climbed the ranks at the Hyatt Regency Trinidad from chef de partie to chef de cuisine (head chef) of the Waterfront Restaurant, he personally designed and hosted chef’s table menus that showcased locally grown ingredients from local suppliers.

Seebaran left the Hyatt to be the first chef de cuisine at the popular Chaud Café & Wine Bar in Woodbrook, under the creative direction of co-owner and local celebrity chef Khalid Mohammed. Seebaran knew that the café would be the perfect place to learn from Mohammed and develop his own style of fusion. Eventually, the young chef flourished enough to design menus for the restaurant.

After five years, it was time to leave a place that had become ‘home’ and branch out on his own.

“I really got to the point where I wanted to experiment with all kinds of mad ideas, and a restaurant isn’t always the best setting for that. My style is always to use local flavours with French and other international techniques,” Seebaran explained. “The House of El was at the Bishop Anstey High School Fete earlier this year with rissoles – an Italian fried stuffed crepe. But my rissoles were stuffed with Indian-spiced potato like an aloo pie, or Chinese-style shredded chicken, similar to our spring rolls. Fete patrons were going crazy over the flavours and textures,” he laughed. “We started getting requests for larger and larger portions until we ran out.”

One of the items on the Donburi menu is also a new take on an old Trini classic: macaroni and callaloo croquettes. The croquettes are fried balls of yumminess; bite into a fresh one and your mouth is filled with cheesy macaroni pie and rich callaloo, with a crunchy outer layer.

More dinners and pop up events are in Chef Seebaran’s future; in between private events for individual and corporate clients, he’s already hosted a pop-up event at Unwined Wine Bar in Arouca, and worked with the Centre of Excellence’s Cattleya Hotel on a Mother’s Day brunch. Wherever a new food adventure beckons, he’s there.

“I want to be able to educate people more about food and affect as many people as possible with food in a positive way. Somewhere down the road, we’ll have an established place where people can come and enjoy what we offer. But for now, I love being on the move.”

You can check out more about Chef Seebaran and The House of El at their website, www.thehouseof-el.com or find him on Facebook and Instagram.