Newsletter for March 2022

Glen Herbert
The Grenadines Initiative
Sailing the Mr Ron
Readers of the newsletter may recall a fund that was established in the memory of Ron Cutajar. Known fondly on the island as “Mr. Ron” he was active as a fundraiser and volunteer teacher in the wood-working classroom at the Sunshine School. He also volunteered for the Bequia Music Festival, and the Bequia Sailing club Easter Regatta events that he looked forward to every year. The fund reflected those interests, and some of the funds raised were used to purchase a new Opti for the Junior Sailing Academy Bequia. It was christened "Mr Ron" and is on the water every Saturday, as it was this past weekend, where we caught it in action.
Gathering a community
A chef from St. Vincent by way of Brooklyn seeks to lend a helping hand
Rawlston Williams was born on the leeward side of St. Vincent and spent his early years in the village of Questelles “Those seven years were the best years of my life,” he says. “I think it also saved my life in some way. It gave me a different foundation, a different outlook on life that I probably wouldn’t have had.” When he moved to Brooklyn he was still a child, arriving just as the crack epidemic of the 1980, and all unrest that came with it, was really taking hold. He says “I was able to navigate the rough streets of Brooklyn because I just didn’t get caught up in those things. And that foundation came from back home in the islands. Learning how to cook, learning how to clean, learning how to be independent. It became such a major asset.” (While on St. Vincent he was in the care of a woman named Gloria Ferrell, a family friend. She suffered from arthritis, so he helped her out. He recalls, even at 6 or 7, begin in the kitchen cooking, her yelling out the ingredients. Those were his first cooking lessons.)

For many years Williams ran a successful restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, called The Food Sermon. It began as a catering kitchen, offering takeout as well as few dishes that customers, more just out of sheer will, stood and ate before he brought in some stools. In time there were tables and chairs, as well as a growing reputation. “What elevates the Food Sermon,” wrote a reviewer in the The New York Times, “is the extraordinary brightness of the flavours.” The menu is fresh take on Caribbean cooking. There’s macaroni pie and oxtail stew, chadon beni chimichurri, salmon in capers and cane sugar.
If the food elevates the The Food Sermon, Williams, himself, does as well. Described perhaps a bit unfairly by one writer as “a theology school dropout” he works to serve the soul as much as the stomach. His food gathers a community. Like so many of us, when faced with the influence of the pandemic on the island communities, he wanted to help. "I heard from a friend that I communicate with back and forth on Instagram, and she went to visit a shelter, and the men that were there, she could tell, they were sad, maybe their spirits were a little broken. And she just wanted to do something special for them.”

The first thought was to duplicate The Food Sermon model in Kingstown: to create a catering kitchen offering meals free to families in need. As in Brooklyn, it would serve the heart as much as the stomach, “to bring awareness, and help, and a little hope.” He says, “the idea is that people understand that they’re not forgotten about. That’s the first step. And that’s the gist of what we’re planning to do." 

That first idea—going all in—he admits “may have been a little too ambitious.” This in part because, given travel restrictions, he would have to do it largely from his home in the US. “I don’t want to be hijacked by my own ideas,” though increasingly it seemed that risk was there. “And you can still help without doing all of that, and actually make the funds go a little further."

He partnered with Sid Murphy, owner of Oleander, a restaurant in Kingstown. They were soon joined by other local chefs and friends. Once the funding is in place, and travel becomes more tenable, perhaps as early as this spring, they will begin to offer meals out of existing kitchens on St. Vincent. He says, "There will be two phases. There will be opportunities for individuals to come and pick up food. Then, depending on the location, we can go take food to them."

"It won’t be a game changer," he says, "at least not initially." He knows that so many have done so much. Some relief efforts at the time of the volcano that produced thousands of meals a day. That was important at the time. But William’s project is a different model, perhaps based in a different reason for being. The food will be better, given that it will be produced in smaller batches with greater care. It will draw on a wider range of ingredients. And it will be personal. Williams will do outreach, meeting with young people, and mentoring them to do the things they dream of doing. If that's cooking, so much the better.

At home Williams is looking to restart The Food Sermon, which had to be shuttered due to the pandemic. He's also putting the finishing touches on a book for Phaidon Press, The Caribbean Cookbook. And, within the coming months, he's looking forward to getting back to the island and cooking for people. For more on Rawlston, or to learn how you can contribute to his project in SVG, write me at the contacts below or simply respond to this mailing.
The Food Sermon
Glen Herbert
Executive Director
Email: glen.herbert@grenadinesinitiative.org
Ph: 289 439 7052
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