Philippa James visits Calypso Caribbean Restaurant in Blackburn
PUBLISHED: 09:24 15 August 2014 | UPDATED: 16:40 24 October 2015
You don’t have to leave Lancashire to celebrate Caribbean Food Week
Blackburn isn’t exactly famous for its sunshine and clear, blue waters – even in Caribbean Food Week. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy some of the delicious food that originates from those islands. In fact, you have two chances of try it.
Beside the canal is a true reggae gem, Calypso, headed up by husband and wife team, David and Janet Wilson. He is the head chef and Janet, when not working for the NHS, does the shopping and the accounts, as well as looking after the family and staff.
David grew up in Whalley Range where he ‘hung out’ with the local West Indian community kids, and learned to cook with a friend’s mum and grandma. Apparently, he was fascinated by them making dumplings. At the tender age of 14 he took on local chefs and won a cookery competition with his ‘signature dish’ of Curried Goat and Dumplings.
For a while, in his formative, teen years, he, ‘went off the rails a bit’. He worked as a bouncer, then opened a café in Blackburn, got involved in IT and astrology and spent time as a house husband, looking after their son and daughter.
After a false start in one location, just over five years ago David opened the re-born Calypso on Eanam Wharf. Friends declared him ‘completely crazy’ but the business is going from strength to strength. He is proud of the fact that the food they serve is not posh. ‘It’s all about the food,’ he says. ‘If you have a family in for an occasion you don’t get a second chance to make their time here special. We’ve got to get it right with good, home-cooked food.’
David, and his daughter, now studying medicine at university, but returning home at weekends to be the front of house manager, starred in Kitchen Wars, hosted by Marco Pierre White, who proclaimed Dave, ‘The Eminem of Moss Side’. They didn’t go on to win but David enjoyed the experience.
Calypso sources its spices from a specialist importer in Birmingham - there are no shop bought pastes, everything is home made. In fact the pastes are to be produced, commercially, if current plans go ahead.
Dave has a low boredom threshold and, although he can make the patty pastry, with its rich, golden-yellow colour, for the Jamaican equivalent of a Cornish pasty, he is very glad of Moroccan born Saida, who started washing up for Calypso, but her skills as a family cook rapidly came to Dave’s attention, as well as her ability to turn out dozens of patties by hand.
She is one of 14 staff and he declares them all ‘fantastic.’ He adds: ‘Friends have tried to encourage me to go to Manchester, or another big city and open, but my heart’s here, and I don’t want to leave. Blackburn’s been good to me.’
He has become friends with many of the passing boat owners, and hopes to open the first British ‘sail through.’ I left chuckling at this man with a passion for Caribbean food, and I promised to return for some more of his classic, un-messed-with, curried goat, and dumplings.
Honey, Honey… don’t stop!
Calypso isn’t the only place to try Caribbean food.
Michelle and Keith Ayrton have a food business, based on Blackburn Market, is called Kitty Honey Jamaican Food. It’s based on their nicknames for each other – Keith is Kitty.
To say that Honey is a colourful lady is an understatement. When I walk into the market hall I call out: ‘what is it today, Honey?’ as I don’t think I’ve seen her with the same hair colour twice. Honey is a power-house, she talks faster than a machine-gun, rattling away at a hundred miles an hour in her Jamaican drawl.
She was born in Jamaica and she met Keith at his sister’s wedding 12 years ago. He was a fisherman and also had a jet-ski business which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, leaving them with nothing.
Rather than rebuild, they started up their new business in Blackburn with help from Enterprise For All.
Honey cooks everything from scratch, including a special spicy curried goat, which is the traditional dish for celebrations and Sunday lunches, sourcing goat from a local butcher.
Also in her repertoire are jerk chicken and she makes her own flaky pastry for the scrummy, spicy beef patties. These were so good my purchase didn’t even make it home. The smell was so tempting I ate it in the car park!