by Leigh-Ann Worrell
Tough times facing the country and the wider world are a constant hot topic nowadays, and dining out can certainly take a big bite out of an increasingly lint-filled pocket.
However, one local establishment has found a way to appeal to Barbadians and visitors alike through effective pricing and clean eating, all while cutting internal costs.
Let’s get something clear from the start, the one-year-old Chopping Board Kitchen @ Mojo’s is not a restaurant. Instead, “we like to be known as a bar that does good food,” clarified head chef Daniel O’Shea.
The idea to add a culinary side to the well-known bar came last February. Management realised that tourism was declining and brainstormed interesting ways of improving business.
“We needed to have something extra and rather than sitting on your laurels and hoping things will get better we did something. We had the space and started the little kitchen with a menu and started from there,” the cook noted.
It was decided that burgers would be the main delicacy of the Worthing, Christ Church kitchen and bar.
“We make the burgers in-house, come up with our own type of seasoning and… use half pound of meat. We thought the [name] Chopping Board would be a nice little link to the burger… and we put other mini items around it to complement the burger option so we have some chicken dishes, shrimp… It is a simple menu, but consistency is what we are focussing on.”
In order to ensure quality, Daniel sourced all raw materials himself. Chicken is bought from an organic farmer and the pork comes from Cheapside Market. Additionally, there is a two-bed kitchen garden on the property where beans, parsley, tomatoes and basil are grown pesticide-free.
Additionally, the bar and kitchen sends the glass, cans, plastics and cardboard used to a recycling company, which cuts down on its garbage collection bill.
Daniel is the brainchild behind Friday $15 specials like seared kingfish in a homemade tomato and olive sauce and spicy Burmese pork curry with jasmine rice and cucumber raita.
Get this though, he has never been formally trained as a chef.
“We cook and we like to cook for ourselves, so we hope that you would like the food we cook as well. I am not formally trained or anything, but we know the flavours we like,” he stated candidly during an interview in the garden area of the establishment.
His training in food and beverage came while working as a waiter, bartender and kitchen staff for around “six or seven years” in England. After his return to Barbados, he was employed at various hotels and ran a bar.
Formally trained in the sciences at the Barbados Community College, Daniel confessed he loved working in the kitchen.
“I like the pace of it all… and when you serve someone that meal, you can instantly see if they like it or not. It is instant gratification,” he related.
The head cook also wanted to ensure eating his food brought that consistent gratification to consumers – in both price and quality.
“We want you to come here and have two decent meals, a couple glasses of wine and not have to break $100 bill. You will get good quality food and we believe you should come and get fair prices… We know the menu is limited, but we try to do it well,” he explained.
A vegetarian special is also done once per week as a way to provide delectable items for the non-meat eaters. Past specials included a 10-bean chilli, eggplant parmesan and falafels with cucumber and yoghurt made in-house.
“The reason we did a veggie special is because I got some vegetarian friends and their biggest hangup was that the veggie selection was pathetic…,” Daniel said candidly. “It is sometimes sad to see five people at a table and four of them are vegetarian and the vegetarian gets a plate of chips and a salad.”
The staff of 30 have a lot of pride in service and quality of food.
Daniel admitted he ran his kitchen in a “firm but fair” manner, with no compromise on quality.
Those working in his kitchen range from the university trained to boys from the block, and he asked the same thing from them: do not be late and do not tell lies.
“I believe in attitude. I can train you in the kitchen, but I cannot train your attitude, so we try and choose people so that when you leave here, you will still have the right attitude and skills to go somewhere bigger and better…
“If you do what you are supposed to do, you get what you are supposed to get. The minute you start not doing what you were supposed to do, that is when things go amiss. It is very rewarding, but it is a lot of long hours. If you come for a meal today, it should be the same as it was yesterday… I would rather take an item off than compromise it.”
Daniel has had his share of “brutal” bosses in England and Barbados, but he believed they helped to instill proper work ethic.
“Once [the food] leaves the kitchen, the waiters and waitresses must be proud of what you are presenting.
“They could be watching American Idol and eating at home, but they came to us and we want them to be happy to give us their money at the end of the meal…,” he added.
“If you mess up it costs you so it costs me so we all share the costs. You have to be responsible for your actions and the only way some people get them is because hard lessons stick.”
Daniel conceded he still got nervous whenever he came up with a new special, but so far, locals have fallen in love with the burgers and other specials. The Chopping Board Kitchen @Mojo’s has amassed over 1, 700 likes on Facebook, many positive comments and new clientele.
Social media has also played an important role in business promotion, but Daniel said it could be a blessing and a curse.
“It is a catch 22 so that if you mess up they will let you know, sometimes they will get you frustrated but they are our customers and customers are our business.”
For the future, Daniel revealed he would love to have a mobile unit servicing the west coast every other day of the week, bringing good musical vibes and great food. firstname.lastname@example.org