Chef Tobenna: Presenting the Flavors and Heat of Bajan Cuisine in Canada
Updated: Jan 18
Chef Tobenna Wells is a sophisticated and fiery private Chef who is presenting Nova Scotia and Canada the flavors of Barbadian cuisine. He began learning how to cook at the age of 14. “I obtained an internship at an all-inclusive establishment in Barbados named Almond Beach Resort which was the immersive learning experience and professional environment that I needed,” Chef Tobenna shared. Before this experience, he would watch his mother, father and grandmother cook in the kitchen. This worked well as he would usually be the first one in the pot to taste and eat.
Photos provided by Chef Tobenna
CE: What’s your first memory of your love for cooking?
CT: My first memory of feeling a love for the profession was at the same said resort; I was tasked with grilling tomato slices which were to be used for Caprese Sandwiches. I vividly remember being extremely intrigued by the seemingly precise timing which it took to be able to char them without over cooking and making the slices soft and un-usable.
CE: Why are you passionate about being a chef?
CT: I’d say that my passion is equally fueled by both an admiration for the artistic qualities of all things Culinary, along with a huge appreciation for the vast amount of culinary experiences which are possible for anyone to have. I can say I’ve grown even more passionate now as I’ve reached a point where I’m creating and serving many of my own creations and plays on classic dishes on menus. Seeing people appreciate anything which I’ve made is definitely one of the most satisfying feelings I experience.
CE: Describe your cooking style in three words.
CT: If I had to describe my cooking style in three words I’d say Fragrant, Flavorful and Fresh. I generally market my style as French Techniques with Creole Flavors.
CE: How do you go about crafting a menu?
CT: When crafting a menu I always start with what’s in season and design it based on what’s readily available (if a client says they’d like a specific ingredient or dish then I oblige). Having direct access to such a wide array of foods which aren’t easily accessible back home is an amazing thing.
CE: Are there any chefs you admire? What do you admire most about them?
CT: I admire a few different Chefs for various reasons however there are three that definitely come out on top.
1. Chef Trevon Stoute, Executive Chef & Food and Beverage Director of Sweetfield Manor Boutique Hotel in Barbados. Trevon and I both attended the same internship at Almond Beach Resort and grew our careers from there, however his drive and work ethic have always been distinctly unparalleled. He is a prime example to both young and old chefs that hard work, dedication, perseverance and focus all pay off.
2. Chef Dane Saddler, Executive Chef and a Managing Director of Caribbean Villa Chefs. I first met Dane when I returned to Barbados after graduating Culinary College in Canada through messaging him about the possibility of employment within his business. I always admired his organizational skills and calm demeanor during the busy time period when we worked together, as well as the ability to get lots of things done without micromanaging the team.
3. Chef Sakele Watts, Chef at The Trident Table. Sakele was the co-founder of Bajan Epicures back when it was just a blog. He has now launched his own business offering catering services, private dinners and cooking lessons in Barbados. His menus are fully Caribbean influenced, drawing heavily from all of the characteristics presented throughout the various islands. He grew up surrounded by quality Barbadian cuisine as his mother, Donna Ward, owned and operated local canteens and served local delicacies daily.
CE: What is your favorite dish to cook and why?
CT: My favorite dish to cook has to be Cou-Cou and grilled Halibut. Cou-Cou is an
Okra Polenta traditionally served along with Flying Fish (a small fish native to Barbados) as the National Dish of Barbados. Not only does the dish Represent Bajan Cuisine, Cou-Cou is also very versatile in its uses and applications. The polenta can be served soft and smooth or more thick and firm. In Barbados I’d be making the Cou-Cou with either Flying Fish or Barracuda however sourcing them to Nova Scotia isn’t a presently viable option so I swap to Halibut in their place.
CE: Tell us your favorite foods to cook with?
CT: My favorite thing to cook is seafood, however this varies with what is available. When I’m home, it’s tropical fruits, herbs, fresh fish, and seafood which I grew up eating in the Caribbean. Some examples of these are guava, passionfruit, plantain, broad leaf thyme (also known as Cuban oregano, Spanish oregano, and Indian borage among countless other names), breadfruit, mahi-mahi, and red snapper. Here in Canada I prepare dishes like mussels, oysters, lobster, salmon, and scallops, all done with creole flavors. I’ve recently prepared a simple oyster platter for a group with nothing else but lime and scotch bonnet pepper sauce. It was a hit.
CE: What are your specialties as a chef?
CT: I’d list my specialties as Elevated Creole Cuisine.
CE: Best cooking tip for a novice just getting into the business?
CT: Advice which I have for any novice who’s at the start of their own culinary journey is to thoroughly research the menus of any establishment where you plan to work and learn how to make every dish. It likely won’t be the same exact recipe being used at the restaurant but the knowledge will prove to be valuable regardless. Also read up on lots of different cuisines starting with the ones which would be more relevant to your career, and never stop practicing your knife techniques. Every time I dice an onion I still try to dice it better than the last.
CE: Describe Bajan cuisine in just a few words for someone who has not tasted it?
CT: For someone who hasn’t had it before, Bajan cuisine is a mixture of African, English, Indian, and Creole influences which is very similar to many of the other islands in the Caribbean.
CE: Tell us about Bajan Epicures and the reason for its inception?
CT: Bajan Epicures first started as a blog between me and a friend named Sakele Watts. We wanted to demonstrate what we were learning and were passionate about - Culinary Arts. The blog grew quickly to involve half a dozen other students who all had varying interests in the hospitality industry, both front and back of house. The blog was eventually discontinued due to other professional obligations; however there was always a will to resume use of the blog's name under other professional ventures. After months of active planning and years of waiting for the right time, that will has come to fruition. Thus presenting Nova Scotia and Canada with BAJAN EPICURES, serving Bajan Pride in Every Bite through Private Chef Services.
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