By RON FANFAIR
Trinidad & Tobago chef Richardson Skinner enjoys cooking and made quite an impression at last year’s Caribbean Week celebrations in Toronto.
On his first visit to Canada, he shared his exemplary culinary experiences and delighted guests with a few of his signature dishes and desserts, including roasted pumpkin soup with sauté ginger shrimp and crème brulee trio.
“I thoroughly enjoyed Canada and its people during the few days I was there,” he told Share. “The people were very hospitable and very interested in my unique cuisine and I relished the opportunity to be on the City TV Morning Show. Whenever I go to an event like the one in Toronto, I choose some of the ingredients and the cuisine we have in St. Lucia and let people experience it. That’s what sells.
“My goal, especially for those that have never been to St. Lucia, is for them to come and taste what the island has to offer and, after doing that, they will perhaps consider coming and experiencing the beauty of the island’s people and beaches. Lots of tourists are now looking forward to good cuisine and I find now that a lot of hotels are using their chefs as promotional vehicles.”
Skinner has come a long way since shelving his dream of becoming an auto mechanic. He’s the executive chef and part-owner of Ti Bananne Caribbean Bistro and Bar located at the award-winning Coco Palm Resort in Rodney Bay Village.
“When they were building the hotel, I got a call from Michael Chastanet (popular St. Lucian entrepreneur) who invited me to come and have a look at what he was putting up,” recalled Skinner. “It was a bit strange because there was no building and he would keep pointing to where he wanted the restaurant to be located. It was kind of weird looking into empty space and trying to imagine what he was seeing.
“I was doing well in Martinique at the time. The only problem was with my wife who could not get a work permit there and she was becoming frustrated. After we talked it over, I decided to move to St. Lucia, invest with the owners and manage the restaurant operations. It’s a decision I have not regretted since I came here four years ago because she has also been able to create her own niche here and she’s happy.”
Born in Trinidad, Skinner moved to neighbouring Tobago at age five where he completed high school and took an auto mechanic course. Unable to find a job in that field or come up with the financial resources to open his own garage, Skinner decided to try his hand in the hospitality sector.
“It was easy to get work in that sector then,” he said. “At around 16, there was this head chef who introduced me to this line of work and it took me about six months to realize this is what I wanted to do full-time. I could remember looking at chefs and seeing them getting a lot of praise for the work they were doing. They looked to be very important. I told myself I might as well get into that too.”
Skinner went back to Trinidad briefly to pursue a culinary arts course before returning to Tobago to hone his skills as an apprentice at Mount Irvine Bay Hotel’s Le Beau Rivage restaurant. In the late 1990s, he moved back to Trinidad to serve as the executive chef at Poleska’s Restaurant & Cocktail Bar at the Trinidad Country Club.
In his quest to advance his French cuisine skills, he accepted an offer in 2001 from a Martiniquan chef he met in Tobago who had opened is own restaurant in the French West Indian island and wanted Skinner to be part of his team.
“This was a great opportunity for me to become more acquainted with French cuisine and also learn the French language,” Skinner said. “Working in Martinique was also great for me because they deal with Caribbean ingredients and that meshed really nicely with me as a chef.”
The Chastanet name has flavour and pedigree and Skinner could not resist when the family patriarch put in the call for the young Trinidadian to come St. Lucia. He proudly admits he made the right choice.