AS TOLD TO BC PIRES
My name is Daniel Luke and I’ve always been in love with food. I’m a pastry chef.
I come from the north, not the west.
Carenage and Chaguaramas, not West Mall, Diego Martin, Petit Valley.
Carenage is a very welcoming place and the people are very diverse.
But when people hear “Carenage,” they think of gun crime. It has that stereotype, yes, but, all over the world, not just in Trinidad, there are places you just don’t go.
You’d be surprised at the number of mansions there are in Carenage now. The further you go in, the more amazed you get. You almost don’t believe these places exist!
I went to Pt Cumana RC Primary School, a neighbourhood school. The Government school wasn’t too far away.
I went to a Catholic school, grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and have Hindu and Muslim friends. I have been to church, mosque and temple. And I’ve taken the decision to believe in God but not religion.
People say having a family of your own is “building a life.”
But I’m making sure I build a life for myself before I build one for any family.
The cousin I call my mother is actually my adopted mother. My mom died when I was 12.
I started secondary school in Carenage, but when I was about 14, ended up finishing in the USA, where my mother was.
First California, then Washington State. Not the usual Trinidad-to-Brooklyn route! The only part of New York City I’ve been to is JFK Airport!
I stayed in the US about three years but I’d never think of settling there. In (our so-called) Third World Caribbean countries, we have good, free healthcare. How can you rack up a US$1.1 million hospital bill in two weeks?
I’m open to living anywhere in the world, but my number one spot would be Finland. I went to visit family in Scandinavia – we Lukes are everywhere – and those countries are amazing. It’s easy to adjust to their societies.
The food really attracted me. All year round, they see what’s fresh and use that in their meals. Winter berries!
I grew up around a lot of elderly people. so I was exposed to a lot of elderly music. Like UB40.
It was family that brought me to love food. Anytime you saw the family together, there was food. And everybody could cook, all self-taught.
We never really ate fast food. Everything was made from scratch and you grew up around that, seeing it done, helping out.
The biggest thing to me in Trinidad, which I hope will never die, is Sunday lunch. Regular Sunday lunch with extended family is a big-big-big thing.
We were always in the river. We would make what you would call crayfish chow or what we called soup, by the riverside, in an old Crix tin.
Everybody bring something, not buying anything, but taking from home. Somebody bring the flour for dumplings. On the way to the river, you pick some neighbour green fig.
Most people don’t know there’s an amazing variety of fruit trees in Carenage you wouldn’t find elsewhere. Cocoa trees, caimit trees. Sapodilla, monkey pois doux, cashew. My family has never bought cashew nuts in a tin. You make chow with the fruit, tie up your whole mouth, then you throw the nuts on the roof and let the oil dry out.
We rarely bought anything that was preserved. Even tamarind ball, we made!
When my mother cooked Sunday lunch, you could come and you would get food. It would be rice, chicken, pork, salad. You must have your plantain and your sweet potato.
I think I was the only child that loved watercress. The little bitterness of it.
I always knew how to cook but I took home economics in high school in the US.
And then went to the hotel school in Chaguaramas to “officially" learn to cook.
Being a pastry chef in Trinidad, everyone can do that. It’s how you separate yourself from the rest and are you willing to pay that price?
I think we need to reinvent our local sweets. You don’t hear about toolum anymore! You don’t see chip-chip – the sugar-cake with the coconut chips.
I love jalebi. It’s literally just flour soaked in syrup but it tastes so good!
My relaxation is running and the gym.
Exercise is the best form of stress-relieving. To the point where, if I go a day without running and lifting weights, I feel like I’ve gained five pounds.
I’m a slim pastry chef.
But I had to lose my covid weight.
I started in the food industry as a server, then a host, then I worked for a restaurant where you had to multitask. You was cashier, you was bartender, you was event planner. Which kind of gave me that experience.
At Texas de Brazil, I went from gaucho, the guy serving the meat at the table, to manager.
Hospitality in the US is different from Trinidad. In the US, they see you as being a dog and restaurant-work is dog-work. I’m paying you, so you have to be nice to me!
In Trinidad, no! Trinbagonians will tolerate you for a little while but they won’t put up with that sort of foolishness. Rub us the wrong way and it won’t work out well.
If guests are really annoying, you walk away.
Go to the car park and scream and cuss and shout.
Then go back to the table with a big smile on your face.
The best thing about being a pastry chef is that everybody wants to be your friend.
The worst thing is the calories!
As I look at what’s going on outside Trinidad and Tobago, I think we’re in a much better covid19 place. And we have to continue.
People are studying the economic aspect, but you can build back an economy. You can’t build back people’s lives.
I don’t think we Trinbagonians understand how influential our culture is.
In Sweden, there is an entire bar dedicated to Trinidad and Tobago. I can’t remember if the owner is Trinbagonian but I remember all they serve is Carib and Stag.
Sweden is so infatuated with Trinbagonian culture.
I won’t say what “a Trini” is because I prefer the word “Trinbagonian.” We need to always include Tobago.
To me, Trinbagonians stand out anywhere in the world, adapt to any situation and leave our mark everywhere we go.
Trinidad and Tobago means life to me.
It has given me my way. It is how I see myself. Ever growing, always wanting to be better.
Read the complete version of this feature on Saturday at www.BCPires.com