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Street smart

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When he was offered the role of chef for the Land Rover BAR team, Desmond Townsend said he was not interested.

After more than 30 years in the food and sales industries, it was time to focus on something of his own.

An unexpected trip to their headquarters last year helped him change his mind.

“I went down to Portsmouth and it blew me away. Absolutely blew me away. They welcomed me as part of the team straight away,” he told Lifestyle.

This is his first time back in the kitchen since 1995.

“I've tried to escape food, but that's who I am.

“Years after being a chef, people still called me a chef. I thought to myself, don't try to escape it, embrace it.”

Mr Townsend started at their Dockyard site in November.

He said it had been the perfect test kitchen for his new venture, Streetwize, a street food café that will open in the Dorothy's Coffee Shop site on Chancery Lane.

The menu will include the beloved Dorothy Burger after former owner Dorothy Middleton gave him the recipe.

“I actually think Dorothy kept something out of it,” he laughed. “She's promised me that she'll be my taster. The patty will be the same recipe, but we'll do a potato roll or a brioche roll — you'll be able to add apple wood smoked bacon, salsa, pesto, fried egg, different types of cheese.

“Those are the kinds of things that will bring it up to date.”

Mr Townsend said that focusing on street food allows him to draw upon all of his influences.

The London-born chef moved to Bermuda in 1984 from a West-Indian community in New Cross. His parents emigrated from Jamaica in the 1950s.

“Caribbean food is the original fusion, influenced by Africa, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the British. Plus, you've got the flavour of the American Indians — it's got that wonderful melting pot,” he said.

“The Caribbean language, patois, is a melting pot, so is the food. Street food allows us to be that melting pot in one place. Nothing is out of bounds.”

He was surprised to find not a single fish and chip shop on the island when he first arrived.

“[Streetwize] is primarily a fish and chip shop that sells lots of other things.

“We're going to do fresh cut chips — not french fries. Our fish will be frozen-at-sea cod, haddock — English fish and chips.”

They will also serve fresh, local fish, saveloys, pies and a “Nando's-style” peri-peri chicken, coleslaw, mushy peas, gravy and curry sauce.

“I want to give it a little island flavour, even though it will look like a fish and chip shop.

“My hope is that Dorothy Middleton will be the one to cut the ribbon for us.”

He does not serve much in the way of fried food at the base. He is under strict orders to keep the sailors healthy.

A nutritionist-approved version of fish and chips is on the menu every Friday and he has served the Dorothy burger “once”.

“They loved it,” he laughed. “They're just guinea pigs for us, really.”

The café has been 30 years in the making. He worked at esteemed establishments Claridge's and Langan's Brasserie before taking a job at the Hamilton Princess.

“I didn't plan to stay in Bermuda this long. I met a St George's girl and that was the end of that,” the 54-year-old said.

The father of three jumped from Bermuda to London to Dubai and back between cheffing and sales roles.

He opened St George's Club, was head chef at Whitehorse and then got into sales at Viking Food, then American Express, Butterfield and Vallis and Bermuda Media.

“I've been lucky because my sales background and my culinary background have helped every step of the way.”

He started the business with fellow chef Brian Hetherington, who will be head chef at Streetwize. He calls him “Mr Reggae” and the pair share a love of music.

His sound system, Shogun, started in St George's in 1985. He did a Sunday show for Vibe 103 called It's a London Thing with Mr English.

The sometimes DJ started playing on the radio in 1995 for Power 95 on Tuesday nights.

“Myself and two English friends — we called our little clique the London underground crew,” he remembered.

“We had these broad English accents and we played all UK music. UK reggae, UK jazz, UK soul, hip-hop, jungle, drum and bass — all UK artists. It was wonderful and the feedback was phenomenal. People thought it was broadcast from away.”

“I grew up in a Jamaican household. Sunday morning music's playing, gospel, country and western, a lot of ska — you listen to that every week,” he added.

“Being a child of the Seventies, because of the immigration, a lot of West Indians coming to the UK, there were no clubs playing reggae. So, there were a lot of house parties. As the kids, we were told to go upstairs, but we were exposed to this all the time.

“And as we grew up we were allowed to go to the parties.”

Desmond Townsend at Land Rover BAR (Photograph by Nadia Hall)
Melting pot: Desmond Townsend says that Caribbean food is the original fusion food (Photograph by Nadia Hall)
The chef with his team at Land Rover BAR Taryq Brown and Gwen Trott (Photograph by Nadia Hall)

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Published May 15, 2017 at 9:00 am (Updated May 15, 2017 at 2:39 pm)

Street smart

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