Q&A with Chef / Owner Glen Bent of Cariba
Cariba is without a doubt one of the most delicious, charming restaurant experiences in Barbados. Just off Highway 1 on the scenic West Coast of the island, Cariba is located on a quiet residential side street surrounded by the lush Bajan foliage. With this restaurant, there are no sea views or valet parking, torch lit dining rooms or brigade of cooks, but as chef Glen Bent explains, the proof is on the plate.
— By Joanna Fox
Owned and operated by Bent and his lovely wife, Faye, Cariba offers an authentic taste of the Caribbean with a slight Asian influence. The endearing setting, a converted chattel house, is the perfect warm atmosphere to enjoy Bent’s thoughtful take on Caribbean food. We sat down with the extremely talented Bent to talk about everything from Cariba and cooking to Barbados and breadfruit.
How did Cariba come to be?
It all started 7 years ago. Actually, first my wife and I started out as a catering business and we wanted to expand so we needed a location. When we found this place, we wanted to refurbish it because it’s a chattel house and all the windows are open so people just assumed the business was open. We kept getting asked when were going to be serving lunch and dinner. That was never our intention at that stage. Once we got asked enough times, we thought that maybe that’s the direction we should be heading into, so that’s what we did.
Where are you and your wife from?
My wife is from here but I’m from Yorkshire, England. It’s in the north, Huddersfield, to be exact, which is closer to Manchester. My parents are Jamaican, so I’m originally from the Caribbean.
What brought you here?
Well, it really wasn’t an ambition to come here but as you travel as a chef, one thing seems to lead to another. When I left home I went to London and did the whole London thing, working in hotels. After spending three years in London I went to Brussels, Belgium, where I worked in a hotel. While in Brussels I met a Japanese chef and he enabled me to actually go and work in Japan. That’s when you start to get all these strings to your bow and you become more marketable. After Japan I went to St. Moritz, Switzerland, and then I was finally offered the opportunity to come to the Sandy Lane Hotel here in Barbados. I was hired as the executive sous-chef (second chef) and I think a lot of that was predominantly to do with my Asian cuisine background. There I met my wife, and the rest, as they say, is history.
What brought you to the food that you serve here at Cariba?
It fits, I mean, it fits the island. A lot of what we do is Caribbean inspired but I didn’t want to forget the trail that I followed to get here, so we do incorporate some Asian influences. I wouldn’t say that it’s traditionally Caribbean and we don’t say it’s Bajan because we want to have a wider footprint, a wider umbrella to work under. We’ve got everything from Guyana to Puerto Rico so it gives you a wider scope to do different things.
What kind of ingredients do you use?
When it’s a small business, and because it’s a small island, there is a lot of importation. We want to import as little as possible here at Cariba. It works out fresher, it works out cheaper and it works out tastier. We try to bring as many influences to the table, but the majority of what we do here is from the island.
What are some of your favourite dishes?
The curries. They’re definitely Caribbean but also have the influences of Asia. Actually the restaurant name is the combination of the Caribbean and Asia: we called it Cariba, to incorporate both. I think that these curry dishes would sit as easily in Barbados as they would in Jamaica, as they would in Thailand or Indonesia. They seem to be our most popular seller.
What is grown locally here in Barbados?
Basically if you went to any market you would see a lot of cucumber, tomatoes, pumpkins and squash, a lot of mixed leaves and a lot of fresh herbs. We are an island so a lot of fish is local: kingfish, mahi-mahi, snapper, tuna, and swordfish. It’s also a good island for rearing chicken and pork, but not so much beef. There are lots of what we call ground provisions as well: sweet potatoes and yams. Then you have plantain, bananas, cassava, those kinds of root vegetables; we also have breadfruit.
Can you explain what breadfruit is?
It’s kind of like asking what a potato is! It’s a starch. It’s a big green ball and the meat is very starchy. What people generally do is put it in foil with some butter and some salt and roast it on a fire on the beach. But there are also techniques where you do treat it as a potato: you can make chips with it, you can make a mash, you can stuff it with crab; there are many different techniques you can use for breadfruit.
When you’re not working, where do you like to eat?
I wouldn’t really say that for me there is one standout place. More often than not, after six or seven days here, it’s more family-style food at home: sometimes a BBQ outside in the back patio, just nice and easy with big salads and a little grilling.
The atmosphere here is great, how would you describe it?
We like to describe it as something homey, cozy and unpretentious. People can relax here. What we try to do here is compete on the plate. So you’re not going to get valet parking and crystal chandeliers, but obviously when it comes down to what we put on the plate, we have to compete. I think we are very authentic and very homey. Quality. That’s the point I really want to highlight. Some people think because we’re not on the beach, they don’t see the flames at the restaurant or half a kilometre driveway, that we might not be their thing. But when people do venture here and discover what we’re about, I think they really enjoy it.
Chattel House: A chattel house is something uniquely Barbadian and can be seen all over the island. The word ‘chattel’ means moveable and that’s exactly what these houses were: they were made out of wood without nails and were set on blocks so they could easily be moved from one location to another. They were designed back in the plantation days when the owners of the chattel homes often did not own the property the homes were on as well. If the homeowners needed to move, they simply took down their house and moved it to a new location. A lot of Barbadians built additions to their chattel homes so they gradually got bigger, with several different levels and rooms, and eventually became permanent structures.
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