Published in Cornwall Today (The Summer Issue, August 2013)
Falmouth might not appear to be the obvious location for a Caribbean restaurant but chef John Duncan challenged that assumption when he opened Cribbs. Six years ago, the St Vincent-born chef brought his Caribbean roots and background as a head chef to the small seaside town and has since built up not one, but two successfully received Caribbean-oriented establishments.
Having moved to Cornwall in 2000, John had built up experience as head chef in St Ives’ Onshore and Truro’s One Eyed Cat. Cribbs Caribbean Restaurant was John’s first establishment which opened its doors April 2007 and focused on creating a unique and sophisticated dining experience within what he described as a “dilapidated building.”
Starting with immediate repairs on the roof, walls and inside seating, John focused on making his food a memorable experience. “When I first came here, it was bad. One day I just maxed my credit card out, I called someone to sort the sign out, then I got a guy to give me a quote on new seats – cost me ten grand! I did all of that, then I focused everything around this painting. All the colours in here go with it and I also have a picture of home, my house, it’s all there.
“I think the main reason I opened up my own place was because I got tired of being promised so much by other bosses…so I just decided to do it myself,” he explained. “I don’t walk around in the nicest clothes, the nicest car…but that’s because I have a dream beyond that. Once I’m there, I’ll have all of those nice things.”
Business steadily took off and his most popular dishes: Caribbean Lamb Curry and Jamaican Jerk Chicken became quite the talk of the town. Because of his success with the local and student population at the restaurant, John has been supported with his newest venture, Cribbs Cafe-Bar. Both give anyone interested in trying Caribbean cuisine, dishes full of flavour and fresh ingredients.
Before finding a company to deliver these ingredients, John would travel nearly 200 miles to Bristol during off-peak days, filling his car with his kitchen necessities to create traditional, true-to-home centerpieces (like Jamaica’s national dish: ackee and saltfish.) Ackee, a tricky fruit to prepare, is boiled then served with the salted white fish along with sauteed onions and Scotch bonnet pepper. John plates his with chips of fried plantain and plain white rice.
“What I do is use whatever seafood we have here in Falmouth and just give it a twist. Things like fresh thyme, coriander, curry seasoning and cloves…all of these little bits and pieces that make it authentic Caribbean.”
His experience as a chef on a cruise ship is reflected in the styling of his plated food, regardless of the course by focusing on colours and delicate presentation. The main selections are served on white, heavy, bowl-like dishes that allow the flavours to soak down from the fried plantain on top to the rice ‘n peas at the bottom, whereas lighter dishes are served on simple, wooden boards.
When he talked about what Cribbs represented he said that: “I think for me, it’s all about representing not my island but the Caribbean as a whole because Caribbean food is at the back burner where cookery is concerned.”
As owner and chef of both places, John is spending a lot of his time back and forth but still makes a genuine effort to bring a smile to work on a daily basis. Another thing he never forgets is his knitted beanie which replaces a traditional toque paired with chef whites.
“Growing up as a kid I always had dreads…It’s like a woman changing her hairstyle. I just put the hat on and still feel pretty,” he joked. Known for coming over to chat to his customers, he makes sure that he is known foremost for what he is, a chef and someone who enjoys plating up food worth coming in for.
Specialising in take away food, Cribbs Cafe-Bar officially opened May 1 and serves some of John’s roti wraps and other grab-and-go snacks that are available all day and into the evening. John and his ‘crew’ have also taken their atmosphere-enhancing cocktails like ‘Koko Kolada’ that transport you to a tropical paradise in one sip and with its history of being Q-Bar on the Moor, John has given the venue a new life, leaving its graffiti-grunge past behind.
His secret? Determination and choosing your company wisely. “People that you can trust and be able to delegate to them and them come back and delegate to you with the best possible answers for the scenarios or situations.”
“I think fixing up places is my niche,” joked the chef. “If I’m going to be a millionaire, it’s going to be from finding old dilapidated places and turning them into something special!”