It has been a hectic and rewarding past three weeks for award-winning chef Selwyn Richards.
Just days after he was unveiled as a Harry Jerome Award recipient, Richards launched his first cook book.
As a finicky eater, he didn’t consume most of the soups and other dishes his mother prepared for guests she regularly entertained at the family’s home in Spanish Town, Jamaica.
Instead, Richards started cooking at a young age to satisfy his taste buds.
“I started dabbling with fried egg sandwich and fried chicken,” he recalls.
After graduating from Kingston Technical High School and completing a year at the University of Technology, Richards migrated to Toronto in 1980 to pursue engineering studies.
To raise some funds to begin his post-secondary education, he secured employment as a dishwasher at a restaurant. Within three months, he was promoted to assist with food preparation.
“That was when I got more comfortable with food and realized this is something I could do for a living,” said Richards. “But, I couldn’t just tell my mom that her son, who came here to study engineering, was going to become a cook. If I was going to get into this business, I had to be the best at it and that meant going to school to learn and hone my culinary skills.”
Three decades later, the George Brown College culinary management graduate has mastered his craft and is at the top of his game.
The owner of The Art of Catering, the award-winning chef and food stylist is about to launch a cookbook – The Art of Cooking: Soul of the Caribbean.
“This is something I was planning to do for quite some time,” he said. “When I was at the Diaspora conference in Jamaica last summer, I found a publisher who gave me just two months to organize the material I was putting together for a few years. It was a tight timeline because my daughter was getting married a few weeks later, but we were able to settle on a date in September.”
The book comprises over 60 classic Caribbean recipes ranging from spicy jerk chicken, ackee & smoked salmon val-au-vent and escoveitch of red snapper filet to succulent curried conch, braised oxtail and pepperpot soup with vibrant photographs.
Ontario Court of Appeal judge Michael Tulloch wrote the book’s foreword.
“Like most great artists, impersonators will always try to replicate their masterpieces, but only the artist himself can duplicate his originals with his own inimitable uniqueness, taste and flavour,” he wrote. “That is what Chef Selwyn Richards has been able to achieve in his new book…The recipes capture both the flavour of the Caribbean as well as the warmth, rare spices, exotic mix and essence of the Caribbean soul.
“Selwyn is one of the finest chefs and one of the most loyal and passionate ambassadors of Caribbean herbs, spices and delicacies. With this book, he has now made available to all households his unique blend of herbs and spices as well as his simple yet creative recipes of Caribbean cuisine to North America. The book is detailed yet easy to read and will be a welcome addition and a mainstay in every kitchen.”
After working as a chef at The Island Yacht Club, the Top of Toronto Restaurant at CN Tower, the Skyline Hotel and Skydome where he was the production kitchen chef when the facility opened in 1989, Richards launched Pepperpot Café which closed about eight years ago and The Art of Catering which provides high-end catering for community events, weddings and anniversaries in Canada, the United States and the Caribbean.
The Art of Catering team includes his brothers Travis and Lennox.
Richards – who has appeared on the Food Network series, I do, Let’s Eat, dedicated the book to his mother, Shela McLeod Skinner, who lives in Pickering.
“She taught me to be passionate in everything I do,” he said. “Today I stand tall because of what she has poured into me.”
The book can be ordered through firstname.lastname@example.org or amazon.com.