When Cullin David and his business partners opened Calabash Bistro (428 Carrall Street) in 2010, the executive chef and co-owner wasn’t sure how his restaurant would go over with customers. The Caribbean eatery and music lounge was one of the first of a new wave of restaurants to open in the then slowly gentrifying Downtown Eastside. David also had doubts about how customers would respond to a cuisine that isn’t common in Vancouver.
“I ended up being totally wrong, and it was a totally baseless fear. For the most part, Vancouver received the food really well,” David told the Georgia Straight during a recent interview at Calabash. As for the restaurant’s neighbourhood: “We haven’t really had any issues. The way I look at it is respect.”
Opening a bistro that served Caribbean cuisine in his hometown had always been a dream for David. The Vancouver-born, White Rock–raised chef said the only other career he considered was playing football.
“My mom was a great cook. My grandma’s an amazing cook. My stepmom is an amazing cook, so it was just something that was always around me. I’m half Guyanese and half Irish. Guyanese culture is really about food—that’s true of all Caribbean culture,” he explained. “Cooking has always been in my blood.”
He started as a dishwasher at White Rock’s long-running Giraffe Restaurant before moving to Vancouver and cooking at the Reef, Provence Mediterranean Grill, and Provence Marinaside.
“I spent about 12 years with JF [Provence co-owner and executive chef Jean-Francis Quaglia],” David recalled. “He was gracious enough to really give me a platform to put out my Caribbean food and that cuisine to Vancouver. I started doing Caribbean three- or four-course menus out of Provence [Marinaside] for regulars.”
A months-long trip to Guyana and Barbados solidified David’s desire to open a restaurant that would showcase Caribbean cuisine when he returned home. He decided to highlight traditional Caribbean dishes, such as jerk chicken and goat curry, while using French cooking techniques.
“Most people view Caribbean food as [something cooked in] a little café or a hole-in-the-wall,” he noted. “I wanted to raise the bar on it a little bit. You can really take an ingredient from anywhere in the world, and it will fit into Caribbean cuisine because everyone in the world has put their foot in the Caribbean.”
When David is cooking at home, he tends to combine flavours from around the world as well. He enjoys making lamb sliders with caramelized onions and greens, and he shares the recipe below. The meat is seasoned with cumin, ginger, garlic, and turmeric, and the entire meal can be made in a single pan. David’s toddler son is too young to handle a slider patty between slices of baguette, so he dips the patty in hummus and eats the greens separately.
Staying true to his Caribbean roots, David suggests pairing the sliders with a rum-based Dark and Stormy cocktail or a bottle of Jamaica’s Red Stripe beer.
Cullin David’s lamb sliders with caramelized onions and baby collard greens
2.2 lb (1 kg) ground lamb
½ cup (125 mL) black currants
1 Tbsp (15 mL) cumin
2 tsp (10 mL) ground ginger
2 tsp (10 mL) garlic powder
1 Tbsp (15 mL) black pepper
2 tsp (10 mL) turmeric
2 tsp (10 mL) herbes de Provence
2 Tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ bunch collard greens or kale, ribs removed, thinly sliced
1 cup (250 mL) hummus
1 baguette, sliced on the bias into ½-inch-thick slices
- In a large bowl, combine the lamb, currants, spices, and herbs. Form 24 small patties by rolling the meat into rounds the size of Ping-Pong balls and patting flat.
- Heat the oil in a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Carefully place 12 patties onto one side of the pan and cook for 3 minutes, or until edges start to brown and juices form. Using a spatula, flip the patties, keeping them on one side of the pan, and cook for 3 more minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add onions to the other side of the pan and cook for 2 minutes.
- Remove cooked patties and keep warm. Sear remaining 12 patties for 3 minutes per side while onions continue to cook. Add collard greens or kale to the onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until soft.
- To serve, spread hummus on the bread. Assemble sliders using lamb patties, onions, and greens. Alternatively, lamb patties and greens can be served with steamed rice.
Yield: 24 sliders, or about 6 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.