Riaz Phillips tells Valeria Fiore of the Hackney Gazette how his search for the best Caribbean cooking led him full circle to Hackney, where his grandmother lived for 60 years.
When his grandmother died, Riaz Phillips realised he didn’t know enough about Caribbean culture in Hackney – or even the UK in general.
Mavis Bucchan was born in Jamaica but lived in Hackney for 60 years.
So last year, inspired by her life, Riaz decided to find out more about his background.
In just 30 days, he managed to crowdfund £10,000 for a book about the Caribbean’s rich culture of cooking: Belly Full, subtitled Caribbean Food in the UK.
Riaz, 27, is a writer and the founder of Tezeta Press, an independent publishing company born in October 2016 with the intent of giving space to cultural and historical projects.
“The name comes from Tizita, which is a style of music in East Africa that deals with notions of remembrance, nostalgia and not forgetting,” he said.
Riaz has seen a lot of change in Hackney – he was born and raised in Homerton, on the edge of Victoria Park. So he was committed to finding a way to preserve the cultures that make Hackney so diverse.
He decided to go on a journey across the UK in search of Caribbean flavours.
“As the culture has been so prevalent in the UK over the years it’s important for me to try and document it as elements of it begin to disappear over time,” he said. “I grew up surrounded by it and I saw what it meant to so many people.”
It took a year and a half before Riaz had collected enough material for the book. “The best part of making this book was talking to people,” he said. “It was rewarding to see how willing they were to talk to me. And obviously, I tasted a lot of Caribbean food.”
But the book isn’t just about praise for cuisine. He gives space to Caribbean families across the UK, too, and asks them what food means to them.
“I travelled to places like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool,” he said. “It was challenging to write there, since I had to spend more time in the library doing my research.”
But back in London, he could count on the support of his family. In fact, his book comes with a delicious addition thanks to them.
“With my book, you can also buy a small book containing Caribbean recipes that my mum wrote,” he said.
Visit the Tezeta Press website: tezetapress.com/shop.