Words and Photos by Ola Mazzuca
Every day, Chris De La Rosa works in a multicultural office abundant with flavor: His kitchen. Trinidad-born De La Rosa is the man behind CaribbeanPot.com, a food blog he established in Hamilton, Ontario in the spring of 2009, to share the recipes of his youth with his family. “Our culture is one such that our food and recipes are not documented, so I started documenting these recipes for our daughters,” De La Rosa says, of his children, Kieana, Tehya and India, who are currently pursuing college and university. “If they wanted to make jerk or curry chicken, they could go to the website, look it up, and replicate the recipe wherever they are in the world.”
Caribbean Pot, which has become the most widely-read online source of Caribbean recipes, isn’t solely dedicated to De La Rosa’s heritage, but to the Diaspora as a whole. “At one point or another, all these people come to the Caribbean and create this melting pot of flavors that we all learn from and adapt to the Caribbean way,” he says of a food culture that blends traditions from indigenous Caribs and Arawaks; African slaves; Spanish, French, English and Dutch colonizers; and migrants from Asia and the Middle East. “These flavors and traditions have shaped the way you see me cook.”
Now, De La Rosa is bringing Caribbean Pot by the spoonful and slice as a columnist for LargeUp, where he will be sharing recipes, and ideas to educate and engage with Caribbean cuisine. We met up with him as he stocked up on Caribbean-food staples for his kitchen at the always-reliable Charlie’s West Indian Food Mart and Caribbean Cuisine in Mississauga, Ontario.
LargeUp: What inspired Caribbean Pot?
Chris De La Rosa: My daughters, to be honest. We’re based in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, but our kitchen represents the Caribbean. I grew up surrounded by people who can cook. My daughters grew up eating the stuff I ate in the Caribbean, with Canadian food as well. The [running] joke is that if you were to go to the UN, you would eat at their cafeteria, and that is what our kitchen represents.
LU: Have your daughters been working toward your original goal?
CDLR: That is the joke of the century [laughs]. They have not been using it as I thought. I connect with a million people from all over the world on a monthly basis through the website. Do my daughters use the recipes? Well, when Tehya was at Western University and Fanshawe College, she was using it. When Kieana was at Niagara College, she was using it, but they would still pick up the phone, call me, and ask how to do certain things. I’m sure once they start having their own families, they will be cooking more.
“Scotch bonnet peppers are synonymous with Caribbean cuisine. In Canada, you can attempt to grow them in your summer garden, but I always count on Charlie’s for a fresh bunch.”
LU: What’s your professional background?
CDLR: I am an Internet marketing consultant by trade. I have been doing that for almost 19 years, back when you would dial up on the Internet and hear that screeching noise. Prior to that, I worked at one of the premier banquet and convention centres in Hamilton and that’s where the whole food and catering scene began.
As a kid, I would shadow everything my mom would do in the kitchen. I was never professionally trained. You would never see me in a video or pictures with [chef] whites on. I think that would be disrespectful to anyone that has put in their time at culinary school, to earn that white jacket. Now, can I compete with these guys? Definitely. I have years and years of real-life experience, playing with these flavors and food. I’m sure I could ‘handle my stories,’ as we say in the Caribbean, with the best of them. My grandmother was 104 when she died, my other grandmother was 99, and these are the people I shadowed when I was a kid. That’s 200 years of experience right there. My mother is an excellent cook, my father, my aunts, my uncles—they’re very talented when it comes to the kitchen.
When you look at the cultural background [in the Caribbean], there is so much we learn from. We have the indigenous Caribs and Arawaks; the colonizers; the Spanish, the French, the British, the Dutch. Then we have the African slaves. After the slaves were over, we had indentured laborers from India and China, then people from the Middle East coming to the Caribbean and calling it home. At one point or another, all these people come to the Caribbean and create this melting pot of flavors that we all learn from and adapt to the Caribbean way.