When Che Leonard left Trinidad in 1989 headed for London, his dreams pointed towards conquering the international DJ circuit. A bright-eyed 18-year-old, for him it was all about the music. Twenty-three years later, he now lives in Bournemouth in the South East of England, and is head chef of D’CoalPot Caribbean Grill. Leonard’s inspiration for D’CoalPot came when he moved to Bournemouth and began managing club venues including The Lounge Cocktail and DJ Bar. “It’s located two minutes from the main pier and beach in Bournemouth and has the perfect outside space for a good ole-fashioned barbecue.” Leonard was inspired to start a weekend barbecue with a Caribbean twist. It ran every other Saturday during the summer period. “More than a year later, it has come a very long way, with a lot of hard work. We’re building the brand and offering Caribbean food that is not the standard jerk chicken with Jamaican rice and peas. It’s about getting people to understand that our Trini pelau rice is our way of doing rice and peas.”
That was a major factor for Leonard, showing that Trinidadian cuisine, while Caribbean, is still unique to that of Jamaica and the other islands. “Here in the UK, for many years the perception of Caribbean food was jerk chicken, rice and peas etc. Mainly Jamaican dishes as that’s what was readily available. Then there were the roti shops, which were exactly that, roti shops, as they did not stray far from the typical roti shop menus. So last year, when I decided to take the plunge and start up D’CoalPot–Caribbean Grill it was a conscious decision to highlight food from Trinidad,” Leonard said. Leonard stresses that he uses 100 per cent local ingredients. “I use pigeon peas. As a matter of fact, I use as much local ingredients as possible, from Chief goat/duck curry powder, geera, black masala and more. Even my jerk seasoning is made for me by a top Jamaican chef based in London, George of 1st Jerk. It’s his recipe too.” Open about not being a formally trained chef, Leonard emphasises that he learned from the best, his parents. He grew up around cooking and remembers being 11 and preparing a surprise birthday meal for his mother. “Baked chicken, fried rice and steamed vegetables.” Leonard adds, “Now mind you I’m not a formally trained chef, so I’m not offering fine dining cuisine, it’s pure unadulterated home-cooked food,” he said.
Apart from offering “an authentic Caribbean grill food experience” Leonard also caters for parties, barbecues, lunches as well as corporate events. Leonard is now offering a unique experience where he and his team take D’CoalPot to the home for private functions where the food is cooked on site and in front of guests, making it a very interactive experience with lesson on Caribbean cooking. D’CoalPot recently signed a sponsorship deal with Appleton Estate Rum, Wray and Nephew, Koko Kanu Jamaican Coconut Rum & Licor 43. “I was asked why not Angostura being a Trini. The answer is plain and simple. These guys showed more of an interest. Plus it doesn’t matter to me as I see us as one Caribbean,” Leonard said. The successes for Leonard continue, as this year he will be taking part in the Bournemouth Food and Drink Festival from June 29 to July 1. This will include doing an official pre- festival event. “This is going to be an evening of Caribbean food and cocktails and drinks on June 27 at The Lounge Cocktail and DJ Bar. Then there is the Demo Kitchen Display at the Food Fest on June 30, where I’ll be doing a quick meal prep and cook demo as well as a cocktail demo.”
The Bournemouth Food and Drink Festival was first held in 2011 and was such a hit that it is being run annually. The festival will feature and promote local related businesses ranging from cafes and hotels to brewers and farmers. It will conclude with a food and drink market on Bournemouth Square, featuring Leonard and D’CoalPot. Prior to D’CoalPot, Leonard held various management positions in men’s high fashion but was very much into his music through deejaying, as he was before leaving Trinidad. He also co-hosted a spot on a BBC Soca/Calypso Radio show for over six years which included coverage of Carnival which lead to him co-hosting a BBC2 TV documentary on Trinidad Carnival. He then got involved with event management in the UK and in Trinidad working on major concerts. He also toured as a DJ playing soca and main stream club music. There was also a stint with 3Canal as their backing deejay. He played for many Trini parties and events and got deeply involved with Notting Hill Carnival for many years as part of Cocoyea London.
Cooking has always been his second love and now he is using his talents to take the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago to the world.