Photography: Cheers Photography Trinidad
Delving into a delicious dish, you can often taste the personality of the cook behind it. It may be shy, tepid, one-dimensional or strong, piquant, and vibrant, laden with flavorful depths that tap into cultural traditions. The latter certainly applies to Natasha de Bourg, a Trinidad-born globe-trotting chef turned reality star on the popular Bravo TV series, “Below Deck Sailing Yacht.” On the show, her boisterous, take-no-prisoners persona matched her bold flavors, mixing her Caribbean culinary heritage with her international training.
The result creates magic in the kitchen. Think salmon carpaccio dotted with a tropical medley of orange ponzu sauce, fresh mangoes and sour cherries, or her playful “shrimp on the rocks” ― where she wraps the succulent crustacean in spiralized potatoes and avocado edamame mousse, served on a bed of moss. “For me, that’s what food is about,” says de Bourg. “It’s a language and a passion that you can only speak when you become one with it. It’s like love.”
Despite fighting off jet lag after another international trip, during our call, her bubbly spirit shines through — all animated hands and laughter as she shares her passion for cooking.
Her enthusiasm was sparked at a young age in Sangre Grande, Trinidad, where she learned about food from her grandmother. Trini dishes gave the chef early lessons in mixing diverse global flavors, like they did in the family’s Christmas stuffed chicken recipe. “It’s a mixture of Creole herbs, Indian spices and a touch of Chinese,” says de Bourg. “I just loved the melange of my culture.”
As an adult escaping a troubled marriage, she sought a new life in cooking, the space that had brought her so much confidence and creativity as a child. She studied culinary arts at the Trinidad and Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute, and at Derby University in the United Kingdom. Refining her skills, she later completed a bachelor’s degree in international business from the prestigious Cesar Ritz College in Switzerland.
“From there everything started to make sense to me,” recalls de Bourg. “I was the only brown-skinned girl from the Caribbean to be studying at that level.” But she didn’t let this experience intimidate her. “There were people from so many different countries, and here I am from this small island. I had to represent.”
She did her island proud, interning at three Michelin-starred restaurants like Eleven Madison Park in New York, Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and Mirazur in Menton, France. These eventually led to the role of Executive Chef at French fusion restaurant, L’Ardoise, in France.
Although she enjoyed the wealth of knowledge gained from these experiences, something was still missing. “Obviously I started traveling and living abroad to learn the basics of international cuisine,” says De Bourg. “I think it broadened my horizon in thinking.”
For her next course, the chef would embark on a new kind of culinary adventure, branching into the world of private yacht charters, which combined her love of food and travel. She quickly became a hot commodity, serving as head chef on the Flying Dragon, based in Spain, and later on the Panthalassa, based in Turkey.
Chew on This
It was her experience working on these ships that led her to star on “Below Deck Sailing Yacht.” “What people don’t know is that I went on Below Deck as a bet with one of my friends,” she laughs.
Alongside her world-class culinary skills, fans knew her for her confidence and strong will, seen, for example, in showdowns with crewmate and chief steward Daisy Kelliher. Though reality TV may be famous for its orchestrated larger-than-life characters, for De Bourg’s on-screen presence, “what you see is what you get. Nothing is scripted. People think that we’re acting, but we’re actually working 18 hours a day.”
Ever the go-getter, de Bourg has been busy since the show, appearing as a juror on the Jamaican television series “Maggi Food Court,” where she judges some of the Caribbean’s most talented chefs. She is currently writing a memoir and developing her own television series, which ties her love of food with critical social issues affecting the Caribbean today, from domestic violence, to colorism.
As such, De Bourg rarely has downtime. When she does relax, “It might sound crazy, but I travel,” she says. “I love traveling, because it kind of opens up my thinking to see why people eat the way they eat.” She believes one of the best ways to learn about a community is through its food. “For me, it’s becoming one with the culture and with the people. I don’t want to go to a fancy restaurant. I want to go to granny down the street who has a hole in the wall, because that’s where you get the authentic culture.”
Since embarking on her culinary journey, she has visited 72 countries and learned to speak three languages. Each place has added a new flavor to her palate, each grounded in her rich Caribbean roots. “It always goes back to cultural DNA, and I think that’s what food is.”