Environments which are agriculturally as well as culturally dynamic such as Guyana, in South America, can answer the global increasingly desperate calls for models of sustainable food systems. Certainly, every society has its unique role to play in offering solutions to global environmental and food security challenges. Guyana’s cultural heritage, natural history and its evolving cuisine culture has some worthy lessons.
Among the many food developments across this vast yet poorly populated country, the Backyard Café is highlighted because it is leading the development of a viable Guyanese cuisine culture. Creating a national cuisine culture or brand, with global reach requires that every aspect of the Guyanese food system must play its part, and the Backyard Café (Backyard) team is making key contributions.
Founded by Chef Delvin Adams and Malini Jaikaran, the Backyard Café is a team effort to celebrate, preserve and innovate Guyanese food traditions through fine dining, catering, gardening consultancy, and ecotourism. Backyard offers an uncommon, on-demand dining experience, for which a reservation is required to craft unique experiences for each guest. The Backyard is where I fell in love with three varieties of passionfruit, picked directly from its vines on an overhead trestle, and where I learned how to eat it just so – cut in half, spooned out, savored and swallowed. I can go on about Chef Delven’s delicious Gilbaka curry, smoked Snapper shine rice, wild pig pepperpot, garlic pork, roast chicken, bunjal duck curry, fireside Metemgee, Married-man-pork drink, and Pastry Chef Malini Jaikaran’s cheesecakes. Chef’s Married Man Pok drink pairs well with the local DDL’s Lord Roberts gin. In this laid back atmosphere, delicious dishes are accompanied with stories of how ingredients got to the kitchen and the plate. Michael Pollan practiced this very principle in selecting, for his book The Botany of Desire, the apple, potato, marijuana and tulip plants because of the compelling stories they tell.
Backyard Café efforts extend beyond the restaurant with food and market tours, where more interesting food stories are shared, and where guests really get to know their food. Here, I rediscovered the relatively rare sour fig banana, and its unique sweet and tart taste, a suggestion of its medicinal qualities. On the tour, at the New Guyana Marketing Corporation (GMC) in Bourda, Georgetown, one discovers scores of locally manufactured produce, including GT and Pandama wines and Pomaroon Rose coconut cassareep. For its own part, the Backyard Café’s test kitchen generates its own delicious and nutritious produce with marketing potential, including Avocado Butter and Bird Pepper flakes.
The Backyard gardening and landscape consultancy encourages and assists creation of “kitchen” and decorative gardens, which empowers individual stewardship of wholesome foods, havens for beneficial fauna and even flood control in a land a meter below sea level. Taking cues from nature’s interdependency, the Backyard Café team values relationships as foundations for a viable cuisine culture.
Beyond our new oil wealth, more interesting light now shines on Guyana, thanks to Backyard Café’s attraction of Gordan Ramsey who recently featured Guyanese cuisine on an episode of his “Uncharted” TV show. This and the more democratic social media help preserve classic recipes such as plantain foo-foo, and cornmeal cou-cou which are almost extinct from local home tables. The Backyard Café is forging in Guyana what Rene Redzepi has done in Denmark with Noma, what David Kwabena Ntim has done in Ghana with Santinos Fine Meats, and what Edna Lewis, Sean Brock, et al., have done for southern American cuisine.