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Joe Brown - Ageless cooking guru

The world is his kitchen
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Joe Brown, 58, still relishes 18-hour days at his restaurant Jaffa’s at the Queen’s Park Oval in Port-of-Spain. PHOTO: KEARRA GOPEE

Joe Brown’s philosophy is this: “Do you know that saying—all things in moderation? That’s a crock. Do everything to excess.”


That’s his secret to living as heartily as he has, even with as much as four hours of sleep. 


“Why waste time sleeping? You sleep when you’re dead,” he responded, after detailing his daily schedule. 


By 4 am he is jogging around the Queen’s Park Savannah, by 4.30 am he has made his trek to the Lady Young Lookout. 


By 7 am he’s arriving at the Queen’s Park Oval—heading to his restaurant Jaffa and will be there to work sometimes an 18-hour day. Weekends are 


not for resting either. You might just see him on the Churchill Roosevelt Highway, on a bike along with fellow members of the cycling club Saturday Religion or just on his own, riding as far as he can.


It explains his youthful outlook on life at age 58. His burly, athletic frame is moulded by his years in rugby and marathons, as a tri-athlete and a sailor. 


Now he’s an endurance cyclist, training, challenging himself to races he finds around the world. 


He recently went to England to compete in a 300-miler to be completed in 24 hours and with good cause, as it was a charitable race to raise funds for cancer research.


“I don’t mind being my age as long as I don’t act my age,” he quipped in his British accent.


But when it comes to the business of food, that’s another story. 


Brown has spent the last 20 odd years in Trinidad—firstly, enticing the palate of Hilton Trinidad diners as executive chef (he jokingly blames then general manager Alfred Aguiton for taking him away from Hilton Puerto Rico where he was second executive chef for four years); then, independently as owner and executive chef at the fine dining restaurant Solimar located in St Ann’s; now, as owner and executive chef at Jaffa (second floor of the Queen’s Park Oval) which has become a popular venue for lunch or dinner. 


“Fortunately I still enjoy it. When a supplier brings me a load of off-the-boat fresh fish, even if it’s 200 lbs or when I am about to leave I’ll stay to butcher them and make sure they are on the menu by the next day,” he said. 


“I own the company, I manage the company, I cook almost every day. Yes, I am the chief, cook and bottle-washer.”


In total, Brown has been a chef for the past 42 years, starting his apprenticeship in July 1971 in his homeland. 


His passion for food, his reputation for demanding high standards in the kitchen, his dedication to the profession supports the lifetime achievement award he received just recently from Table Talk, the brainchild of Jamaica Observer senior associate editor for Lifestyle Novia McDonald-Whyte.


Although he is an outsider, his heart is in Trinidad. Besides the women, what he likes best about Trinidad is it is a business island. 



“I don’t think I would have been happy on a vacation island. I like the fact that my business is 12 months of the year…despite Christmas and Carnival,” he said.


In addition, he says he has put a lot of effort into Trinidad hospitality having taught at the Hotel Institute for many years and initiated an apprenticeship programme. 


He created the culinary competition (for which he was also head judge and team coach) that decides the team to represent Trinidad at the annual Caribbean culinary meet as well as international fairs…and returns home with gold medals. 


With all these successes in the industry, Brown says there is still work to be done in tourism and hospitality. He still believes tourism is not taken seriously enough. 


He suggests to officials at the Ministry of Tourism and other affiliate State agencies that there must be conversations with those who are working in the field.


“Involve the players. We are the ones who talk to the customers. Nine times out of ten we are the ones with the expertise. I remember a few many years ago when I was at Solimar I met a Canadian group of consultants working for the Ministry of Tourism to develop an action plan…and I am saying why are we paying so much money for foreigners to come in the country when if you asked me and few other people like me and we could give you the same action plan at a tenth of the cost?” he said. 


“Gobsmacked” is the adjective he uses when he observes the culture of appreciating what is foreign over the capability and strength of what is homegrown. His time here has given him the licence to express such concern.


At age 23, his worldly goods were in two suitcases and over the years he has added memories of visiting the world and cooking for prominent figures such as former presidents Jimmy Carter of the US and Anwar Sadat of Egypt and late prime minister of Israel Menachem Begin as they talked peace for Egypt. 


Now, the world is his kitchen. Would he stop now? The question of retirement receives the quick response “no.” He says he gets frustrated when it’s a quiet week. 


“This is what keeps me young.”


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