Chef Orlando Satchell: Trailblazer’s St. Lucia Restaurant Named One of the World’s Best

[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Phyllis Armstrong (Cuisine Noir Magazine) highlights the artistry of St. Lucian Chef Orlando Satchell and his and conviction that “the best food in the world is Caribbean.”

When a cozy Black-owned restaurant in St. Lucia is named one of the best in the world, some curious observers wonder. How did a British-born chef nab that award? It was not the first recognition of excellence for Orlando’s Restaurant & Bar in Soufriere.

The award from Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine magazines is his latest accomplishment. “I was blown away. I was blown away that I was the only restaurant in St. Lucia mentioned,” says executive chef and owner Orlando Satchell. “My story is simple. I consider myself a young Black boy from Birmingham, England who believes the best food in the world is Caribbean,” says the legendary St. Lucian. His journey from the United Kingdom to the United States, Asia and the Caribbean is more complex than that and paved with life-changing experiences.

Crafting a Chef’s Vision

Years before he trained at a culinary school in London, Chef Satchell inherited a love for cooking and West Indian ingredients from his Jamaican-born mother. “My mother has been a big part of my culinary movement. I remember growing up and going to the market with her. She would always negotiate with the vendors,” Satchell says.

His mom even put her negotiating skills to use when he was 16 and interviewing for his first job in a hotel kitchen. “Do you know she came into the interview and sat next to me?  I got the job, so that’s a good thing. It wasn’t my interview, really. It was mom’s interview.”

Before long, Satchell noticed a distinct difference between his mom’s cooking and what came out of hotel kitchens. “Everywhere I went in a hotel job, I would always ask why are we not seasoning the food. Salt and pepper are not seasonings.”

As one of the few and often the only Black person in those workplaces, the future chef recognized the link between his African heritage and what he already knew about Caribbean cooking. “Our journey is food that was developed out of slavery. How do we get the best out of the lesser cuts of meat?” asks Satchell. “We have to wash it with lime. Clean it with vinegar, season it, let it sit, and then cook it. Because of our seasoning, it tastes like the best thing ever.”

The art of seasoning, marinating and presenting Caribbean cuisine in a more refined, creative manner soon became Satchell’s mission. He wanted to prove that the island cuisine he loved could be so much more than takeout or party food.

The young chef used his magnetic personality and considerable charm to convince hotel managers and promoters in London and the U.S. to let him oversee the menus at some Black events in the 1980s and ’90s.

“You’d go to an event at an expensive hotel, and the food was never representative of the people. It was chicken in white wine sauce and mushroom soup,” Satchell says. He told promoters, “Why don’t you pay me a pound a plate and I will work with the hotel and make sure the food represents us?”

Those bold moves led to a consulting gig in Singapore in 1996. Orlando’s owner created the first West Indian restaurant where people knew almost nothing about the Caribbean except Bob Marley’s music. “It was an amazing journey, amazing food in Singapore. A lot of the ingredients were familiar to what I know in the Caribbean.”

Trailblazing in St. Lucia

One thing the native of England knew very early in life is he hated cold weather. He got his opportunity to live in the Caribbean after he left Singapore. “I ended up coming as a guest chef to this hotel called Bay Gardens. They only had one hotel then in 1998. They have four now.”

Satchell sold the owners on taking a new culinary direction. He asked them, “Why don’t you give me free accommodations for two weeks in your hotel, and I will train your staff on where Caribbean cuisine should be going. That’s how I ended up in St. Lucia.”

Chef Satchell’s deep commitment to getting the same respect for Caribbean cooking received by other world cuisines drove him. Meeting the Ladera Resort general manager in Soufriere soon led to a consulting job at the five-star hotel. Satchell changed the menus at the resort’s Dasheene Restaurant to showcase the best of Caribbean cuisine.

He proved it was possible to be true to his identity and culinary inheritance while still adhering to fine-dining standards. “In my days at Ladera as the executive chef, it was very revolutionary. In the Caribbean, the mentality was that there is no way a Black guy should be in this world-renowned hotel,” Satchell adds.

The founder of Orlando’s Bar & Restaurant was a rebel with a cause. He convinced his bosses to stop importing the restaurant ingredients. Satchell scoured St. Lucia for the best local vendors capable of providing fresh, sustainable meats, fish and produce. “Ten years ago, I was taking guests to the farms, cooking at the farms, and having them pick the vegetables. I think I influenced the way people present cuisine in St. Lucia now, and practice the farm-to-table concept of buying local, supporting local.” [. . .]

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