The final of the 4 interviews of the Black Business Professionals Association’s (BBPA) 2014 award recipients, is none other than Chef Selwyn Richards.
If you have attended any awards function in the Black community over the past, let’s say 10 years, chances are you have tasted his cooking. His food is truly like art, and of course delicious too. Following his successful cookbook launch, it was hard to nail down a time to do this interview, but ByBlacks.com finally caught up with the master chef this week.
How did you get interested in the business?
My mother is a great cook, and my house was a revolving door for family and friends. My mom loved to entertain and people looked forward to Saturday soup, and Sunday dinner.
I was very finicky and didn’t eat a lot of things, so I started making fried egg sandwiches for myself. After a while, I noticed a lot of my family members started asking me to prepare fried egg sandwiches for them as well. Living in Spanish Town we were able to purchase the bread fresh from the bakery. It wasn’t long before I was using an entire loaf regularly every Sunday.
Then I started frying a few pieces of chicken that my mother had seasoned, and the same thing happened. After a while, people were asking for my fried chicken. I knew then I was on to something.
Why did you migrate to Canada?
I came here originally to study engineering and started out as a dishwasher in a restaurant to pay the bills. Within a month I was promoted to prepping. I realized I enjoyed being in the kitchen and preparing food. I ended up switching to Culinary management at George Brown College in the early 80’s and stayed in the field since then.
What has been your most memorable job?
Working at the CN Tower. I was the first Black Canadian Sous-Chef there and dealt with a lot of resentment because of it. The thing is though, people could not help but respect the position, which was good for my career aspirations at the time.
But there would always be someone trying to sabotage our operations. Every night we would run out of supplies for the kitchen. The service department was deliberately shorting us on what was required nightly. So I started going in early to do extra prep, just to ensure customers would always be able to get what was on the menu. It paid off!
Who has been your mentor?
Nigel Shute. He gave me the opportunity at CN Tower, and I always felt he took a chance on me.
He left the CN Tower and went to Singapore, and came back to Canada to open Skydome as the top chef. When he came back to Canada, he looked me up and hired me for the production kitchen. With his guidance, I was able to do a lot of stuff.
I spoke to Nigel up to last year and thanked him for the opportunity. It is also the reason I like to give back and give people opportunities.
What inspired you to write a cookbook?
When you do as many events as we do, people are always coming to us and asking for the recipe.
Yes, including me.
So we started sending recipes in our newsletter, and would tell people “wait for the book”.
In life, you go through stages.
The first 25 years you spend learning about life from your parents and attending school.
The second 25 years, you start to practice and implement what you have learned, maybe start a family and having kids.
In the third 25, you start thinking about legacy. So for me, I started thinking about what I did with my life, and how I will be remembered. The book is a part of my legacy.
As a chef, what is your favourite meal?
I really enjoy ackee & saltfish, festival and a good cup of Blue Mountain coffee. But generally, I eat what I feel for at the time.
Do you have a favourite restaurant?
If I could have my own way, I would eat out 7 days a week. You can’t consider yourself good at what you do if you don't understand what other people are doing. Plus, if you don't support other people, how do you expect to get support.
I like trying different restaurants to see what food trends and styles are out there, but I don't really have a favourite one per se.
How did you feel when you heard the news about the HJA?
I felt proud of my team, in this new journey of legacy. I feel good seeing people enjoy my creations. When your peers and people that you service recognize you, it feels good. What I am doing is what I was meant to do!
Click here to purchase a copy of the Art of Cooking on Amazon.