(Published in Flava magazine, spring 2015)
Mention Chef George Fowler, or his restaurant Calyspo Grill, and most people’s thoughts will turn to one thing; sticky toffee pudding. The pudding is the restaurant’s most popular dish, and for good reason. It’s rich, moist, smothered in toffee sauce, and quite simply delicious. Indeed, the pudding is so famous that even the nearby road is named after it.
Comedian Stephen Colbert, singer Sheryl Crow, entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson and President Bill Clinton have all enjoyed dining at Calypso Grill, and of course, enjoyed a taste of this decadent pudding. Even famed chefs like Eric Ripert rave about it.
“In December we went through approximately 1,400 portions,” George says. “It was like a sticky toffee factory line in the kitchen.”
He adds: “It’s lighter than the average sticky toffee. It’s just delicious. It’s got a wow factor.”
Fans of the pudding will be delighted to find the recipe in George’s first cookbook, aptly named “Going Down Sticky Toffee Lane.” The book, set to be released shortly, is filled with George’s most popular recipes, alongside anecdotes from his illustrious culinary career, which has seen him cook in kitchens across the Caribbean, the U.K and even a stint in Russia.
George’s culinary expertise and dedication were recently recognized when he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Cayman Culinary Society’s Awards of Excellence and Trade Show gala event, held in October last year.
The seasoned chef has been at the helm of Calypso Grill, one of the island’s most successful and popular restaurants, since it opened its blue-shuttered doors some 15 years ago. The restaurant’s idyllic location on the water’s edge and chef George’s delicious cuisine has diners coming back time and time again.
“It was a surprise when I heard I had been given the award,” George says humbly. “I received the email when I was in the U.K. and I was very pleased to accept.”
George says from a young age he was interested in working with food. He started cooking at age 15 after a securing a kitchen job at a hotel in his hometown of Darlington, England.
“It was really encouraging, and I decided there and then, that was what I wanted to do,” he says.
Leaving school at 16, George took up an apprenticeship, allowing him to complete culinary school while gaining kitchen experience. He later went to work in London at a seafood restaurant where he mastered the art of cooking fresh fish. He then spent the next 20 years island hopping across the Caribbean before finally settling in Cayman in the late 1990s, opening Calypso Grill with co-owner James Mason.
George worked on the line at Calypso Grill for the first seven years, perfecting the menu and ensuring his exacting standards were met; however during the last few years he has taken a less active kitchen role, focusing more on overall quality control and restaurant management.
“You’ve got to be young, fast, and sharp to be in the kitchen day in, day out,” he says.
Many of the restaurant’s signature dishes have become firm favorites with residents and tourists alike. Close second to the sticky toffee pudding are the Calypso crab cakes, packed full of the best quality jumbo lump crab meat, in addition to the snapper Monte Carlo, and the fresh catch of the day, sourced from Cayman’s local fishermen.
Indeed, many of the dishes have been on the menu since Calypso Grill first opened. George recalls a time when he decided to revamp some of the menu items and removed the crispy mango shrimp. “I was bombarded with requests for it to be added back,” he says, adding that regretfully, it was the last time he tried to tinker with the menu.
George believes quality ingredients are the key to the success of his dishes. He sources as much local produce as possible, working with local farmers and fisherman to get only the very best.
“Local produce is excellent. It makes a big difference to the quality of the dish,” he explains.
The chef says that the secret behind his and the restaurant’s success, has been hard work, consistency, and a passion for food
“You have to be 100 percent dedicated to the job,” he says, adding, “My dishes are easy to follow. I always try to keep it simple.
“If diners enjoy the meal they are going to come back, so the food has to be consistent,” he says. “That is probably the hardest part. I have to keep an eye on every dish leaving the kitchen.”
He adds: “It is a small place. You’ve got to get it right the first time. There are so many places to dine in Cayman and the competition is tough. There is no room for error. You have to be consistent with food quality.”
However, George says he has never had a fear of the competition.
“I just do the best I can. All diners want is good, tasty, quality food.”
And, with George at the helm, that’s exactly what diners will find at Calyspo Grill.