Appliance amours & guilt tripping

Anu Lakhan mourns her dearly departed fridge; Kellie Magnus attempts to wrangle an interview with chef Colin Hylton

Illustrations by Shalini SeereeramIllustrations by Shalini Seereeram

My refrigerator and I have been together for five years. Had been. Past tense. I recently lost it to what can best be described as a sort of major-appliance heart attack. It was fine the night before, if a little less cold than usual. In the morning I found the ice in all six ice-trays melted. It appears it died peacefully in my sleep.

I’ve had only one other fridge, which I lost (with sorrow but no great fight) in a custody skirmish (I did say it wasn’t much of a fight) after a mere year of cohabitation. I kept the stove.

The recently deceased fridge was an older fridge. Not in the sense of it being older than I — it was, in fact, five years my junior — so not in biological years (and can you refer to the life of kitchen equipment in biological terms?) — but in fridge years. Like dog years, but for fridges. To put all this beyond debate, let us agree on the incontrovertible Gregorian calendar years. This fridge was not older than me in calendar years, but, because appliances have a shorter life expectancy, mine was definitely older. Considerably older. If I had been dating it, he (another fine point; I always thought of it in the masculine) would have been a sixty-ish man.

Inherited from sister number five, my mature White Westinghouse came with the experience, comfort, and commitment of her twenty-year marriage. I believe it led a stable life. Sister number five is a fine but un-neurotic cook. While she and family moved on to a smoky black, high-maintenance, almost sultry, and utterly enviable model, the old boy moved in to my new place, we got some cats, and we settled down. I gave him hell. At twenty-plus, the spirit was willing, but the sheet metal and insulation were weak. The ice-cream wouldn’t come in at the right consistency. The tiramisu froze. Dairy products destabilised with above-average rapidity. Meat — well, God bless meat. A favourable response to a lamb-chop did not necessarily mean one for bacon.

And yet, for all this — like, I imagine, many a younger woman in similar situations (not especially with inanimate objects) — I stood by my fridge. Sometimes for minutes on end, trying to get the door to stay shut. I couldn’t, wouldn’t leave it.

As with anyone in bereavement, I’ve developed a philosophical habit. What is the nature of our relationship with our kitchenware? Why do we get so attached? Why is the inheritance of flatware and crockery on par with your grandmother’s wedding tiara? What would make me bring a twenty-year-old refrigerator into my home?

Reliability. That’s all. These things, in spite of sustained use (to say naught of the fact that they are truly useful), have withstood the rigours and ragouts of general domestic tribulation. They bespeak stability. They are still around because, whether it is a set of heirloom china or a humble blender you’ve had for ten years, they’ve been cared for and respected for their service.

I like to think I behave with reasonable grace and gratitude towards my kitchen appliances. If something’s gone a bit funny, or seems to be slowing down in some way, I (or hired professionals) try to help. If it proves beyond help, I release it. The fridge was something of an exception. I display no obsessive tendencies towards blenders, hand mixers, or toaster ovens. I am very attached to my stove. It has never given me a moment’s concern (it could not be blamed for the time when, one and a half hours into the three-hour roast, the gas gave out, my car was ailing, and I had to beseech a friend to drive twenty minutes to get another tank. I accept full responsibility). I am fond of my slow-cooker. I enjoy it, but use it so little that I have no problem stashing it at the back of the cupboard until I feel a large stew coming on.

I have no other appliances. I managed to relieve myself of the sandwich-maker a relative pressed on me. My needs are basic, and, to my credit, I have not allowed myself to succumb to the temptation of living beyond my needs — or means, for that matter — if only in this one small area of my life.

Years ago, an appliance dealer ran a series of candid, man-in-the-street testimonial ads. In one of them, people are accosted on their views and wants with regard to fridges. A sturdy working-class-looking man responds, “Maybe something in light blue”. With all appliances, I’m not much more technical than that. I like them stripped down, bare, uncomplicated. Perhaps because I’m none too bright. Perhaps because it resonates better with the way I like my food.

The great significance of this Gandhian approach to kitchen-life is how completely it goes against the ways of my ancestral kitchen. The kitchen that was extended and remodelled on the pretext (or pretence) of increasing counter space. But everyone knew what the extra cupboards and electrical outlets were for. The improvements to the oversize outside kitchen were no mystery. It was all, it is all, for the Great Display and — eventually, inevitably — the interment of appliances. I will not speak the names of these useless and often absurd devices. You’ve seen them on television. You’ve felt the pull. I scoff at your weakness. I call it a quirk in my mother.

To close on a note, not of apology, but at least, on less obvious moral high ground, of confession: I have, for years now, harboured the deepest, intensest of longings for a Kitchen Aid five-quart tilt-head stand-mixer. Hardly a luxury appliance (all the cooks on TV have one); still, I don’t own one. Have never before taken my eyes off the classic stainless-steel model. I sidle up and caress it when I see it in a shop. Inconstant woman, I am just now being seduced by luscious new models in tangerine, citron, and mango.

Do I need it? No. But it’s gorgeous. And I like the sound it makes.

What kind of relationship do you have with your favourite kitchen appliance?

1. Does the appliance occupy a place of prominence in your kitchen, not just for you, but for all to see?

2. How long have you had it?

3. If you were to hear of the model you own going out of stock, would you run out and buy the remaining twenty, or at least enough to see you through to death?

4. Finish this statement: After the hurricane passed, I found myself standing amidst the ruins of my house clutching my _______.

5. Do you find yourself gazing at it, caring for it, protecting it in the manner of lionesses on the National Geographic channel?

Bonus question: If you find yourself so much as looking at a similar but different (perhaps newer? sleeker? red?) version of your beloved appliance, are you stricken with guilt? Are you unable to look at your own when you get home?

This quiz offers no scoring or analysis. If by the end your answers don’t tell you something about the relationship in question, perhaps you should consider living on take-out.


Guilt tripping

Kellie Magnus discovers that snagging an interview with Jamaican chef Colin Hylton requires major journalistic dedication — and a fearless attitude towards dessert

It all started innocently enough with an emailed request from Caribbean Beat’s food editor, Anu Lakhan: “Can you do ‘Three Questions’ with Guilt Trip’s Colin Hylton?” Sure, I’ve sworn off dessert. Yes, I’ve made firm plans to get rid of the ten pounds of ackee and saltfish, banana chips, and tamarind balls that I’ve gained since moving back to Jamaica. Sending a recovering chocoholic to interview one of Kingston’s most famous chefs smacks of abuse. But three questions is a slam-dunk. I can do that on the phone. I don’t even have to go to Guilt Trip, right?

Wrong. Mr Hylton is as mysterious as the recipes to his famed desserts. It is impossible to reach him by phone. Messages are not returned. Plan B: the ambush. I will go to Guilt Trip and just hang out. I don’t have to eat there, right?

Trip number one: I turn off noisy, bustling Barbican Road and enter a quiet oasis of lush foliage and chartreuse and eggplant drapes. Guilt Trip’s stay-awhile décor is the perfect antidote to Kingston’s stress. In fact, the décor and the artfully styled plates delivered to neighbouring patrons are enough to make me forget the purpose of my mission. The chunky notebook sticking out of my purse brings me back to reality.

“Is Mr Hylton here?” I ask.

“Not right now,” says the waitress. “But you can wait by the dessert bar.”

I’m not falling for that one. “No thanks,” I mutter primly. “I’ll sit at a table.” I scan the menu purely for journalistic purposes and dutifully note the pumpkin bisque with ginger sherry and the smoky ackee crêpes. Still no sign of Mr H. But while I wait, it wouldn’t hurt to order an ackee crêpe.

Trip number two: I stop at Guilt Trip on the way home from work. Probably not a good time to interview Colin. But not a bad time for some crêpes.

Trip number three: crêpe number three. Guilt Trip is even more romantic at night. Cobalt wine glasses lit by sparkling candles. Starlight. One lovely glass of wine later, I’m on the best date ever. The dessert bar is calling my name, so I hastily head for the parking lot. I’m back on Barbican Road before I even remember Colin Hylton.

Trip number four: a Post-It note on my dashboard serves as a reminder: “INTERVIEW. No Questions — No Crêpes.”

“Is Mr Hylton here?” I ask, praying for a no. An interview would only get in the way of my indulgence.

“Not right now. Would you like a table?”

“No, thanks. I think I’ll just wait by the dessert bar.” As I stare into a neon-lit case of decadence, the voice of a co-worker comes back to me. “Do not order the tamarind cheesecake, unless you want to get addicted.” Warnings are for wimps. And besides, there are no limits to what I will do for a good story.

One hearty slice of cheesecake later: Colin who? I don’t care if I ever speak to him. In fact, no one should ever speak to him. Leave the man alone so he can cook and bake all day.

Plan C: ambush by proxy. I’m sitting at home, daydreaming about tamarind cheesecake, when my cell phone rings.

“How badly do you want this Colin Hylton interview?”

“Who?”

“Colin Hylton,” says my mother. “Guilt Trip. Aren’t you supposed to interview him?”

Apparently even famous chefs shop for discount furniture on their days off. Before I can say “seriously sauced saffron-scented salmon”, my mother has Hylton cornered and hands him her cell phone. We settle on a date and time, but sadly Mr Hylton doesn’t show up. Luckily, the zingy tamarind lime ginger sauce that accompanies the yellow tail snapper is enough to comfort me.

My now regular trips to Mr Hylton’s haven have been a journalistic disappointment, but when the food is this good, who cares? And do I have a guilt trip about the five extra pounds I’ve gained on my quest? Not at all.

I blame it on journalism. And Colin Hylton.

(Long awaited) three questions with Guilt Trip’s Colin Hylton, by (over-indulged) Kellie Magnus

I’m purging my sins on the treadmill when my cell phone beeps with a message. Colin Hylton! The man himself, apologising for being so difficult to reach, and inviting me for a sit-down.

On the appointed evening, I nervously pull up at Guilt Trip. My plan is to rattle off my three questions before Hylton and my willpower disappear into thin air, but Hylton demurs.

“I’ve just whipped up a batch of Black Cosmos,” he says. “You’ll have to stay for a while.”

In person, Hylton is the perfect blend of charm and edgy humour: a balance of sweet and tart, very much like one of his desserts, or the new fruit-laden cocktails attracting more fans to the restaurant.

Over one very lovely Black Cosmo (fresh blackberry juice, Absolut Kurrant, Grand Marnier, and lime juice), he explains the hectic schedule of domestic catering events and international travel that keeps him away from his restaurant for long stretches. “I travel to eat,” says Hylton. “Sometimes for work, but mostly I travel to find inspiration.” Guilt Trip’s Caribbean-with-a-twist menu, he explains, relies on creative interpretation of Caribbean ingredients and relentless experimentation with international flavours, techniques, and styles.

“There’s no such thing as purely Caribbean food anymore,” he says. “It’s like music. Food is all about crossing boundaries and bastardising everything, while paying respect to your foundation.”

Guilt Trip is famous for its desserts. What’s your favourite thing on the restaurant’s dessert menu, and why?
There is a dessert sampler, a trio of desserts that by its very nature is just indulgent. Passion fruit parfait with crême brulée of pumpkin, orange, ginger; it varies. Roasted pear with marzipan. And good old-fashioned, made-from-scratch, French-style hot chocolate. It goes straight to your heart. It’s a killer.

There’s a lot of attention to design detail: in the table settings, the restaurant décor, the food styling. Is beauty an aid to digestion?
Décor affects your mood and your frame of mind, so in that way I suppose it affects digestion. I was going for exotic. The blues, the golds, the rusts, the reds: I’d just come back from a trip to Turkey, and I guess that influenced me. Décor has never been a huge focus for us, though. We haven’t changed much in years. We just try to do inventive food.

If you weren’t a chef you would be . . . ?
A DJ. You’re out in clubs all night, spinning music. It’s all about indulgence. I’ve been to Ibiza a couple times, and it’s wild. I suppose it’s the Peter Pan syndrome. I refuse to grow up.

Guilt Trip: 20 Barbican Road, Kingston 5, Jamaica; (876) 977-5130