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Ramin Ganeshram
Discusses The Food of Trinidad & Tobago And A Few Other Things!
featured chefsramin ganeshra

Can you tell us a little bit about you?
I was born and raised in New York City by immigrant parents. My dad was a Trinidadian and my mother Persian. Needless to say this made for some very eclectic meals in our house. Add the fact that you can get any kind of food in the world in NYC and I can honestly say that I was raised to have an adventuresome palate. I am a journalist by first profession-I have a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University and have worked as a writer and editor for major magazines and newspapers. I am married and have an infant daughter, Sophia, who is now seven months old and already eyeing what we have on OUR plates at the dinner table.

What made you decide to become professionally involved in the world of cooking?
For most of my career I had been a business/technology/news reporter and editor but I had written about food as a hobby for anyone who would let me, starting out writing a food column for a small community newspaper. Back in 2001, after 9/11, I reassessed my life and career like so many NYers did. I decided that I had to go for what made me happy in life and that was writing about food. So, I chucked up my traditional profession and decided to go to culinary school figuring that, paired with my journalism experience, it would give me an edge in becoming a food writer.

Please tell us about your cookbook - Sweet Hands?
Sweet Hands is a both a memoir, history and cookbook of Trinidad & Tobago. Some reviewers have described it as a tribute to my father as well. The book talks about the food history of this nation which is a true fusion of the cuisine of European colonials, African slaves, indentured Indian and Chinese, Syrian immigrants and native peoples. Each recipe has a story and a history that in itself is as interesting as the tastes of the food.

Why did you choose to write a book on the food of Trinidad and Tobago?
Actually, I had wanted to write a food memoir about my unusual growing up but Hippocrene Books approached me and said they'd like a Trinidad book for their ethnic food series collection for which they are well-known. I said yes.

What are the key ingredients of the Island's food?
LOTS of hot pepper! This comes from both the West African and East Indian traditions. Coconut is a big part of the cuisine as well as fish and chicken.

How have the Islands and their food scene changed since you first visited them as a child?
Well for one thing both Trinidad & Tobago and its food has become more sophisticated. When I was small there weren't a lot of sit-down much less "high-end" restaurants in Trinidad, unless you counted hotel restaurants which mostly served "American" food. Today, there are some brilliant chefs taking this organically fusion cuisine to the next level of fusion if you will, presenting local dishes in French style or using local ingredients for French presentations-for example, taking the concept of pepperpot and creating a braised short rib with the same flavor profile.

What foods remind you of your childhood?
Coconut bread for sure. Curry chicken. Bakes - a savory beignet.

When you cook at home, do you eat like a New Yorker or do the influences of your parent's heritage make a mark in your home kitchen?
Both. I do a lot of "home" food, but being professionally trained I like to try a variety of new dishes. Being a New Yorker makes me dissatisfied with the same-old, same old so I'm always trying new things. Of course, though nothing beats a good-old fashioned Brooklyn pizza.

What was the last meal you cooked?
Last night I made a South Indian Fish curry and coconut rice along with a micro-green salad.

Where was the last place you ate out at?
A local Mexican dive that has wonderfully fresh and authentic food.

What is your favorite cookbook?
Believe it or not the book I most refer to and depend on is a 1960s edition of the Joy of Cooking because it's practically like my old culinary school textbooks in one place. I depend on it for basic recipes that I may have forgotten or need to refer to quickly.

When you are not writing your own food columns, whose work do you enjoy reading?
I very much the wine writer Natalie MacLean and Calvin Trillin is a big favorite. Outside of food I am a huge fan of Japanese fiction and Haruki Murakami is one of my all time favorite writers.

What would be the last meal you had on earth?
A huge basket of ripe pommerac, a fruit that is also called a Malay apple that grows in Trinidad in the spring and is way to perishable to import to the United States. It's easily one of my most favorite things in the world , probably because it's such a rare treat depending on going back to Trinidad at the right time.

What's next for you?
I have just completed a novel loosely based on my father's family and set in Trinidad during World War 2. Food-wise, I am working on a book that explores the true, unique culinary heritage of the Caribbean islands (it's not all jerk, curry, and rum punch like folks think!)

Dad's Ginger Beer
1/2 lb fresh ginger, peeled and grated on the large holes of a box grater
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground mace
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 sprigs mint

Put ginger, lime juice, mace and 3/4 cup of the sugar into a wide mouthed gallon glass or ceramic jar. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into jar and add the pod. Add 12 cups boiling water to jar and stir until sugar dissolves. Set ginger mixture side to steep and cool to room temperature. Cover jar tightly and refrigerate for 1 week.

Line a large sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth. Strain ginger mixture through sieve into another wide mouthed gallon glass or ceramic jar, firmly pressing on solids with the back of a spoon to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard solids. Add the remaining sugar to ginger beer and stir until it dissolves. Serve in glasses over crushed ice, garnished with mint sprigs.

Sweet Hands: Island Cooking From Trinidad And Tobago
by Ramin Ganeshram
Jean-Paul Vellotti (Photographer)

List Price: $29.00
Price with $18.87
You Save: $11.08 (34%)
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