Food and drink: Caribbean food queen Ellah Kandi
She’s the Caribbean food queen who’s making a tasty name for herself in Leicester. Joan Stephens chats to Ellah Kandi
Ellah Kandi arrived in Britain as an asylum seeker from Zimbabwe 13 years ago and it is fair to say this enterprising young woman has not wasted a moment of that time. She has undertaken voluntary work, studied, set up her own catering company, written a cookbook and become a leading light in Leicester’s Caribbean community.
Having spent some time in Brighton and Bournemouth, Ellah was moved to Leicester by the immigration authorities in 2002 and housed in the Leicester International Hotel, in Rutland Street, which subsequently closed down.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, May 26 2013
She had been attending the Emmanu’-EL Apostolic Academy, on Saffron Lane, and when she became homeless, the church took her in.
“They really looked after me,’’ she remembers with her ready smile.
She volunteered to help at Action Deafness and her work there, plus her ability at signing, won her the East Midlands Learner of the Year title.
At her church, she became a member of the adult EAGA choir, also now known as De Montfort University Gospel Choir, and is now its secretary and co-ordinator.
She is currently studying for a diploma in work for young people and children, run by the Pre-School Learning Alliance, and hopes to embark on a degree in social work at De Montfort University in September.
Along the way, she has written poetry, set up her catering business, El Ellah, and written a cookery book, Multicultural Cuisines, which has
recipes from both the Caribbean and East Africa.
“I do like to be busy and to help people,” she says.
She learned to cook by watching the bishop of her church, Mark Anderson, who had done a good deal of cooking in Jamaica.
“I watched, took notes and learned from him. I gained certificates in Food Hygiene and Health and Safety.
“To set up El Ellah I borrowed a small amount of money from the bishop and I gained certificated training from the Prince’s Trust for a different business, and transferred the skills and knowledge to catering.”
In the preface to her book, she pays tribute to the bishop as her mentor.
“I consider him to be the greatest ever cook. I learnt a great deal by watching him. I marvelled that he never used measurements and he was always prepared to explore and experiment.’’
She goes on to explain that, as the bishop encouraged her to help with the preparation of ingredients and describe what he was preparing and why, she gained not only a thorough understanding of his methods, but also the importance of using natural ingredients and avoiding the use of salt, modified foods or artificial colourings.
Instead of salt, she recommends using spices and herbs. Scotch Bonnet chillis, for example, are used a good deal in Caribbean cooking.
“Often, we put some in the mixture at an early stage, then remove it later, so you get a little of the taste and the heat, but not so much that it overwhelms everything else.”
The book lists ingredients for each dish – starters, fish, meat, vegetables – but not quantities. The dessert section is small by English standards, with just three dishes.
There’s a reason for this. “Caribbean main courses are quite filling, so we don’t often have room for puddings, though we do, of course, eat lots of fresh fruit, of which we have an abundance.
“Mostly, puddings are for special occasions such as Christmas or family celebrations.”
Ellah is already planning a second book, but is keen to include illustrations of the various steps of preparation and photographs of the finished dishes.
Meanwhile, she regularly cooks Sunday lunch for 50 people at the church and will happily cater for international and home students at De Montfort University and for 200 to 300 guests at special events.
She cooked for the Leicester Market Winter Festival and her catering recently won compliments when she catered for a Caribbean evening at The Leicestershire Golf Club.
“Her food was just terrific,” I was told by a member who had not eaten West Indian food before.
Her own favourite recipes are for fish dishes. “I use silver bream for escoveitched fish, which is always popular, and I am very partial to fish soups.
“The thing I miss most about home cooking is sazda, a white maize meal which we ate a lot at home. Luckily, I can now buy Dunns River herbs and spices in some supermarkets here, so it is possible to make authentic Jerk chicken or pork, dishes which everyone thinks of as being typically Caribbean.”
Ellah is often asked for her recipes. It has been suggested she should apply for a place on a TV cookery programme such as MasterChef. She has watched it, of course, and other similar programmes, but says she prefers to be in the kitchen cooking, rather than watching other chefs cook.
“Besides, I believe the best food is when you put your heart and soul into the cooking.”
Her eyes light up when she talks about her church, the choir and her adopted city.
“I’ll never leave Leicester,’’ she says. “I’ve lived by the sea, and that was fine, but I think the sense of community here is unique and truly wonderful.”