Words by Kristal Roberts
If you haven’t yet heard of Taste the Islands, then consider this your introduction. Conceived by media producer Calibe Thompson, the show brings the excitement of a TV cooking competition minus all of the stress. Instead, viewers are greeted with a fun island vibe as cohost and foodie, Nicole Hylton, challenges personal chef and caterer Hugh Sinclair – more popularly known as Chef Irie – to whip up culinary delights using various Caribbean ingredients. The result: a delectable new cooking show.
The idea for Taste the Islands stemmed from a conversation between Chef Irie and Thompson. In early 2013, Irie told Thompson that he wanted his own cooking show, a big dream for a man who initially went to school to become an architect. Tired of being practical, Irie decided to pursue his true passion – the culinary arts. Over the years, he went from working in restaurants to developing his own business. His skills in the kitchen and big personality opened many doors, including competing on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, and working for celebrities, including Queen Latifah and Lamar Odom.
Now, he’s dreaming bigger.
Taste the Islands premiered on PBS in April and was immediately picked up by Create TV, bringing Chef Irie’s cuisine to a potential 246 million viewers nationwide. Several Caribbean celebrities have made guest appearances on the show, including veteran reggae artist, Maxi Priest, legendary reggae band, Inner Circle, Trinidadian Olympic athlete, Ato Boldon, and soca singer, Kevin Lyttle.
The road to Network television has been anything but smooth. Thompson revealed that it took more than a year to find distribution for the Caribbean-themed cooking show, and she ended up having to sell personal assets, including a vehicle, and to downsize her life in order to find funding.
Her faith in the show’s concept and in the talent of its chef kept her going.
“When we had our first meeting [at PBS], they fell in love with the show; how we put the show together, how we gave a lot of information about Caribbean food and brought in celebrity elements. They fell in love with it right away, and it’s been going well ever since.”
Thompson is grateful but unsurprised by the show’s success. “It was just a good bet,” she said. Chef Irie, on the other hand, has found it “surreal and overwhelming. “But I’m not scared,” said Chef Irie, who knows that they’ve only just scratched the surface.
Both Thompson and Chef Irie share the vision of spreading Caribbean cuisine and culture into homes across the globe. Their team is gearing up for season two of Taste the Islands and looking forward to developing Chef Irie’s brand, particularly in the cookbook market. For now they’re focused on solidifying the concept of bringing Caribbean cuisine into people’s kitchens.
Enjoy one of the show’s most popular recipes:
Papaya Mango Slaw
¼ cup Canola Oil
2 Tb Dijon mustard
2 ea Limes, juiced
1 ea Semi ripe Mango, julienned
1 ea Semi ripe Papaya, julienned
1 ea Julienned Green & Red Peppers
1 ea Small Red Onion, julienned
1 ea Jalapeño, julienned
½, julienned Chopped Cilantro
Kosher Salt & Black Pepper to taste
Whisk the mustard, lime juice and Canola oil in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt & pepper. In a large bowl combine all of the slaw ingredients, including, mango, papaya, onions, peppers and cilantro. Add the mustard dressing. Toss well and adjust seasoning to taste. Place in refrigerator to chill.