Bermuda chef takes over restaurant in Britain
In 2021 Marcella Smith gathered her belongings and her self-confidence and moved to England.
For ages the popular chef, who is known to Bermuda diners as “Chef Cella”, had worried that she wasn’t realising her full potential. She was eager to test her skills in a bigger pond and see if she could make her dream of owning a restaurant a reality.
It worked. In February she became owner of Gwan Easy, a Jamaican restaurant and bar in Leicester.
“I didn't see much progression where I was going in the restaurant industry in Bermuda and I just wanted to see if I could go to a different country and fulfil my dreams of being a restaurateur. However, it didn't immediately work out that way,” she said.
TGI Friday’s was where she landed shortly after she arrived in Birmingham at the end of November two years ago.
She quickly realised that the restaurant chain couldn’t help her career in the way she’d hoped. She quit, and moved to Leicester.
There she was hired as the head chef at Audrey, “an up and coming cocktail bar” with a menu created by Michelin star chef John Duffin.
“It was really, really cool getting to work close with some major chefs,” Marcella said. “Coming out here from Bermuda, just learning about the bigger world in the UK, is completely different and being able to work with major chefs almost immediately was pretty much a push for me.”
However in July 2022, she experienced back pain that was so severe she thought she’d no longer be able to work as a chef.
“I took a break for two months just to get my health together but then I ended up losing the job at Audrey.”
Fortune once again favoured her; Gwan Easy, a Jamaican restaurant, was looking for a head chef.
“The [former] owner owns a beverage company [in the UK] called Wha Gwan. And then he had this ambition to open up a restaurant.
“I came on board as the executive chef in September of last year. In December he wasn't sure if he wanted to keep the restaurant open and he offered it to me as my own, to take it over, and I decided to do it.”
She continued: “I'd been in the industry for over ten years. It's been a really interesting journey but I decided it was time for me to get myself out there in a different way.”
She formally took over on Valentine’s Day. The staff are the same as worked there before Chef Cella took over Gwan Easy, and the decor also remains unchanged. On the menu: jerk chicken, akee and callaloo and oxtail stew.
“The [former] owner designed the restaurant to look pretty much like if you walked into a resort, a hotel — maybe a St Regis or something like that. Inside it looks very, very posh. However, the food is soul food, Caribbean style.”
She has had a good response so far — from people in Leicester and from Bermudians who have made the trek to celebrate her in her new location.
“That's kind of what I wanted — to prove to myself that I could go to a different country and excel quickly at my dream.”
Although she still has the demands of work as executive chef, there are new challenges as a restaurateur. The chef has enrolled in business classes to make sure she’s up to speed.
“I did business administration when I was in college. However, I went the chef route, so it’s just about having to learn new things. Licensing and things like that [is tough] for me but I've always wanted it, so I'm passionate about [my studies] and mastering them.”
She considers herself “very privileged” to have learnt all she has from so many wonderful chefs and is grateful for the support received from people such as Dennie O’Connor, who really “pushed” her when she worked for him at Tobacco Bay and the White Horse.
“I'm determined to make [Gwan Easy] amazing. I need to bring the Bermuda flavours to this restaurant. I feel like I have an opportunity to put Bermuda on a map in a different way.”
Because Leicester is “multicultural” it makes it easier to find diners who are willing to try something different.
“Basically I am between two universities — De Montfort University and Leicester University. It’s a lot of university students here from all over the world, so I get that push with that. It’s not a huge Caribbean community here but because there are so many other cultures there’s a lot of opportunity with that.
“I'm just happy that I am out here pushing for my Bermuda chefs. I'm here and I’m very passionate and strongly going to make Gwan Easy go on the map. That's going to be the next thing you hear about, that’s my goal — in the next five to ten years to have five restaurants up and running successfully.”
Gwan Easy is located at 34 Francis Street, Stoneygate, Leicester.
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