A Cut Above: Pan-Asian Cuisine with Caribbean Flair at Naru Restaurant
There’s no doubt that the tattooed chef of Naru on Barbados’ South Coast has excellent knife skills, but while moving a fridge to clean the restaurant’s kitchen last Easter weekend, the tip of his left pinky didn’t make it. “Thank goodness it was this hand and not the other”, jokes chef Barry Taylor, not letting the fact that he almost ended his career dampen his spirits.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
— Cover: Barry Taylor, Chef / Owner – Naru Restaurant and Lounge
He’ll still be able to cook his menu of Pan-Asian/Caribbean comfort food, which features dishes like wok-tossed chilli-glazed chicken wings, pulled roast pork with orange, and Japanese pan-fried rabbit gyoza with ham compote and yuzu – all made with locally sourced meats. “The father of one of our chefs knows someone who has a pig farm. So when we’re doing the pulled pork, it’s from the whole pig. The rabbit comes from a farmer my wife Lisa knows.” Sometimes they’ll even come with some of the fur still on, he says, which is all the more reason to need a pinky.
To Taylor, using local products is just another part of sourcing the best ingredients – no easy task when your menu involves kimchi and purple potatoes. He grows many of his ingredients himself, including his Japanese cucumber and choy sum. By this time next year, all the edamame for his spicy green papaya and baby shrimp salad will hopefully also come from his garden. He already makes the wrappers himself for the pan-fried gyoza, and now he even wants to make his own rice noodles, soba, bean thread and egg noodles.
The globetrotting chef comes by his love of international cuisine honestly. He was born in Barbados to a Lebanese mother and a Barbadian father who met in St. Kitts. He moved to Brazil when he was nine and then returned at age fourteen before shipping off to Wisconsin for college. After a year studying psychology, he realised he preferred stoves to desks and headed to Johnson and Wales culinary school in Miami. When he finished, he came back to Barbados for a kitchen internship and worked his way up the ladder at some of the island’s top restaurants.
As head chef of The Restaurant at Southsea he was awarded four Restaurant of the Year awards and a deep nod from Condé Nast. He was also the first chef on the island to receive four diamonds from AAA. But more importantly, it was while working at Bougainvillea Beach Resort that he met his wife Lisa, with whom he would elope to Las Vegas and later, in 2011, open Naru, the first restaurant in Barbados specialising in Pan-Asian and Caribbean fusion.
Taylor took a break from the kitchen to talk about his plans for home-made soy sauce, growing calamansi limes and how he combined upscale Caribbean cuisine and sushi into a successful restaurant.
Why did you decide to start making and growing your own ingredients?
We’re trying to get away from imports. Wasabi powder, pickled ginger and sushi rice are easy to get in Barbados, but some of the exotic stuff we use is hard. Even Thai basil, I couldn’t get it here. When I’m in Miami, I go to Asian markets and buy a lot of dry goods. Then I put them in barrels and ship them back. It takes two weeks to get here. But if we make things ourselves, it’s less expensive, and we know what’s going into it. We used to buy Japanese sweet soy sauce, but now we reduce regular soy sauce, sweeten it and add rice flour. When we first made kimchi, we used to buy a kimchi sauce, but we realised we could do it from scratch. And for the kimchi that we serve with our popular twice-cooked boneless beef short ribs, we use Anjou pears instead of Asian pears, because those are hard to get.
How will your garden end up on Naru’s menu?
I grow a lot of vegetables at home, like Japanese cucumbers, choy sum, gai lan and soybeans. I’m going to use the soybeans to make hoisin and soy sauce and age it in a rum barrel. Now we’re experimenting with our own soy sauce, which won’t be ready for another year. But I have a million different seeds I’m planting in the next few months. Even dragon fruit we can grow here, and I have calamansi limes and giant guava growing now.
How do you name the maki rolls, e.g. Night Fury, Bruce Lee and The Devil in I?
Most of them are based on whatever television show I’m watching or music I’m listening to. My head sushi chef decided he was going make a roll and stack the sushi up. I thought it looked like a castle. Then he was using red tobiko, so I said “Let’s put in black tobiko instead and call it Castle Black from Game of Thrones.” Night Fury is named after the dragon from the movie How to Train Your Dragon. We lay it out like a dragon with avocado on top like a tail, a little face and little ears. The Devil in I and Duality are both Slipknot songs. The Duality is our most popular maki, I think. A lot of Bajans don’t eat raw fish, so they get it because it has tempura shrimp. They also like the pulled pork maki.
Are you the only restaurant doing a saltfish maki?
I think so. That was one of our originals. Buljol is a traditional Caribbean dish from Trinidad. It’s saltfish, peppers and onions pickled, really.
What are your other bestsellers?
The catch of the day in macadamia nuts with coconut rice and a ginger emulsion, because people like the fresh fish, and the pork chop with sautéed wild mushrooms and a red wine-saké reduction.
When did you add the all-vegetarian menu?
From the start. It was important because we had a lot of people requesting it. We also added the mock duck because a few Indian people came and asked for it.
Which do you prefer: the Japanese cheesecake or the home-made donuts with cinnamon sugar and cream cheese dipping sauce for dessert?
Right now the Japanese cheesecake is the bestseller. It’s like a soufflé. My favourite is the donuts, though. My family owns a donut place here in Barbados and I grew up working there. So I had to do donuts. It’s part of my youth.
Shak Shak Complex
Restaurant and Lounge