Local food journalist Franka Philip is hosting a GoatoberTT event on June 29 which promises to be a fun, delicious foodie lime at Waterville Estate, Santa Cruz, featuring goat on the menu.
For those who take their culinary goat prowess seriously, there is also a separate workshop the day before, led by UK chef James Whetlor, who will demonstrate goat dishes from his award-winning book Goat Cooking and Eating.
SHEREEN ALI chatted with Philip about goat cuisine and her passion for cooking local food.
Q: Growing up, what was your most memorable goat dish?
Philip: Curry goat. The most memorable curry goat I had was at UWI, when I was a student in my mid-20s. I was the internal affairs chairperson on the UWI Guild, and I used to manage the famous Small Caf at UWI. And the lady who ran the kitchen was a nice Tobagonian lady called Mary. And Mary was an amazing cook. And I remember asking her one day: “Mary, how do you take the smell, or that kind of strange taste, out of goat?” And she said: “Well, I have to use flour.”
So one day I went and looked at her do it and she was cleaning the goat, and she sprinkled the flour on, wrapped it for a few minutes and just washed it off and seasoned the goat afterwards, using lime and a complete and proper seasoning. But the flour to her was what made the difference.
Your December 9 dinner event last year at Aroma Culinary Studio had some mouth-watering menu items, including steamed goat wontons and goat-and-cheese ravioli. Can you tease our tastebuds a little with some of what to expect at GoatoberTT?
Chef Bianca Bianco (an Italian-trained TT chef) is going to be there, and she’ll be doing pulled goat sandwiches. In the lexicon of culinary delights, pulled pork and pulled brisket and beef are two very beloved dishes. She will also do her famous sliders or burgers.
Bianca is a real lover of our local flavours, she’s a big fan of pimento, so I expect that pimentos will play a role in there somewhere.
And there will be curry goat, of course. And UK chef James Whetlor will be cooking with another local chef, doing goat on the grill. In his book he has some 70 recipes and he is going to make sure that we have one of those fantastic goat dishes done on the grill.
How do you define “Caribbean flavour”? For instance, if you tasted goat done from Morocco, or from Trinidad or Jamaica, what to you would make a distinguishing Caribbean or TT taste?
I think we rely heavily on green seasonings, right? We rely heavily on things like chadon beni, chives, parsley, and of course the pimento pepper, which is a flavouring pepper, and the habanero pepper, which is used to give spice. So in the Caribbean, that is more the flavour you will get – a more herbaceous kinda flavour, because we rely more on green seasoning.
If you take a dish from Turkey, for example, you will probably get more mint, and Turkish pepper, and use of harissa (a hot chilli pepper paste made from a mix of roasted red peppers, hot chilli peppers, garlic paste, coriander seed, saffron and other spices).
If you sample a Persian version, you would get the use of cranberries, or sour cherries; they’d use pine nuts, cumin, and a lot of flat-leaf parsley.
So that is the difference you will get. Our flavours can also be influenced by things like pineapple, mango, or sorrel. Some chefs have been pushing that envelope.
So yes, there are distinctively different flavours all around the world. When you go to India, for instance, you have your tandoori spices; you have your "methis” or fenugreek flavours; they use things like tamarind pulp; they use totally different flavours, depending on where it is.
I know that you’ve always had a passion for food. When you are experimenting in your own kitchen, what influences you?
I read about food very, very widely. I’ve become very interested in spicing. So, for example, one of my friends sent me a nice bottle of Berbere, an Ethiopian spice. I’ve been using that in meat, to flavour chicken, adding it to stews. It has a very smoky, kinda heavy flavour.
I’ve also been using Jordanian Za’atar, a woodsy, herbal, citrusy spice blend from the Middle East. It is made with ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, mixed with sesame seeds, sumac and salt.
So this will sound very weird, but I add it to home-baked bread or bread I buy. If you sprinkle Za’atar with a little olive oil on bread, it goes down really well. I’ve also been using the spice in things like omelettes and frittatas – I love eggs.
Which do you prefer: experimenting with food or writing and blogging about it?
They fulfil different desires. So with eating and cooking, you want to try something new, discover new flavours.
With writing, I approach food stories as a way to write stories about people, places, issues. It’s not just about writing about dishes.
So, for example, when I wrote about goat for Caribbean Beat in 2018, one of the things I focused on was asking farmers and others: What do we need to do in the region to do better with goat farming? One thing that came out was the use of value-add, for example learning to use the milk better, learning to butcher the meat in such a way that it was more useful than simply dicing it up.
So there is a whole lot of storytelling. And I like to hear about food memories. So for me writing serves an entirely different purpose than cooking and experimenting.
I hear at one point you were a vegetarian, but now you are a confirmed carnivore. Any comments?
I became vegetarian before I left Trinidad to go to the UK, around 1995. I’d decided to shun meat because of reports of steroids, hormones, issues with the mass production of meat, and so on. So I took a break from meat for a few years.
It was easier (abroad) because there were things like tofu that were not expensive and easy to get; I had options.
But I had to admit that getting to understand the food industry (in the UK), meeting more and more food producers, I got excited about what I was seeing.
And quite frankly, I got bored with eating just vegetables. I was vegetarian for about ten years – I ate dairy and fish, but no meat.
The first meat I ate when I wanted to go back to meat was a venison burger – because of the quality of the meat.
Today, I do eat less meat than most people I know. I eat meat, but not every day. That’s because you don’t have to. And also, as you get older, you realise there are some things that are better for you than others. So I don’t eat as much red meat.
I love lamb, but it has a high fat content. And goat is one of my favourite meats, but again, I only eat it a few times a month. If I am cooking it, say in a curry, of course it’s gonna be great!
But I have changed my diet because I am aware of the advancement of age and the things that come with it.
Tell us more about Goatober.
We’re having the Goatober launch on June 26, at which UK chef James Whetlor will speak.
On June 27, we’re getting together with the Goat and Sheep Society of TT; Whetlor will do a workshop with farmers demonstrating butchery. He will talk about the value chain and his own experiences in making goat more popular in the UK.
On June 28, chef Whetlor will lead a workshop for chefs, caterers, and serious cooks at the Academy of Baking and Pastry Arts. He will be accompanied by chef Bianca Bianco, our Goatober chef. That course is really important – not just because James is here and he’s a great chef and an award-winning author, but because around the world, people are talking more about goat as a dietary choice.
Goat is healthier: it’s leaner, it’s easier on the digestion, and it’s local: we have it here and we should use it.
It’s also a smaller animal and more sustainable to farm.
Yes, you know the watchwords of Goatober are: sustainable, ethical and delicious. Goats are an easier animal to rear. We have it here, we just have to treat it better, and differently, to get the best out of it.
If you look at it from a tourism perspective: if goat is getting more popular around the world, and people from around the world are coming to Trinidad, it would be nice if we could understand the trends and work with them.
So it wouldn’t hurt if we could go to a restaurant and see different kinds of goat recipes on the menu that people would be interested in. Like goat sausages, for example. Or goat tacos. Things we could produce locally.
On June 29, it’s a day of fun. People should bring along their drinks and whatever side dishes they’d like to eat. You’re going to get goat in several ways, as well as pork or chicken. Come prepared to spend a fun day. There will be DJs and a little entertainment.
And of course James is going to be the star of the show because he will be live-grilling, taking questions from people.
Do you see more goat in your future?
I do see more goat in my future. I would love to keep one, but of course my neighbours would probably not be amenable to that idea! (laughs). Goats are very good for cutting down your backyard grass.
But I do see more goat in my future because I do see myself working more closely with the farmers, and hopefully with retail outlets like supermarkets.
We want to take the Goatober fest up and down the region.
In Trinidad Goatober will be an annual event, with a warmup event in June and the really special main event in October.
* For more on Cuisine Cruisin’ – GoatoberTT log on to https://buzz.tt/event/view/cuisine-cruisin-the-goatobertt-edition
For details on James Whetlor's cooking workshop GOAT - More Than Just Curry log on to https://www.facebook.com/events/847210945661070/?ti=as