A wonderous reflection of the diversity of the Caribbean, Leave It To Esmie is a celebration of the varied cultural heritage of the islands.
From Jerk to Johnny Cakes, Esmie pulls inspiration from across the Caribbean, exploring the innovative cuisine that reflects centuries of African, Spanish, Dutch and French influence. For Esmie, it’s all about authenticity and showcasing that Caribbean food is more than just gratuitous spice and is in fact food that speaks to a rich ancestry and creative inventiveness. Born in Saint Kitts and raised in St. Maarten, Esmie’s journey began when she came to England and struggled to find authentic food like her mother had made throughout her childhood. Whilst her youth might have been spent avoiding the kitchen whenever she could, the lack of options that truly reflected the taste of home was enough to make up her mind. What began as a venture into the unknown at Digbeth Dining Club has now grown into a successful business of event catering, a bricks and mortar premises and a variety of delicious marinades and sauces enabling people to bring a taste of Esmie’s into their own home cooking. We sat down with Esmie to find out more about her business and how she brings that Caribbean sunshine to her customers.
How did it all begin?
I was born on the island of Saint Kitts and grew up on the island of St Maarten so my food influences were Dutch, French, Haitian and Spanish. I remember as a teenager; I would run as far away from the kitchen as I possibly could! But I found myself getting more interested in food when I came to England and couldn’t find food cooked the way my Mommy Marvi did. There was a lack of Caribbean food that was freshly cooked and flavourful or with more than just jerk. There was no food around that represented the islands I grew up on. A friend that I worked with told me about a new street food venture called Digbeth Dining Club and that is where my journey began.
Your food is pan-Caribbean, how do you celebrate the nuances of each island?
I don’t represent one island as such, I pull from the different islands and create my thing. For example, one of our most popular creations is our Caribbean Burger where our burger bun is a giant fried dumpling/Johnny Cake. On St Maarten the Spanish fried dumplings/Johnny cakes are large, flat, and round, we replicate this and fill it with the Jamaican influence of jerk chicken, drizzled with our homemade BBQ sauce and fried sweet plantain. Our Dutty Fries are fries topped with the Mexican pico de gallo drizzled with zing ting aioli and a creole spicy mayo then topped with fried sweet plantain and crispy onions. I am also very keen on vegan Caribbean food and it’s a passion of mine to ensure that vegan food is amazing as well. I was vegan for 16 years and back in those days it was just mushrooms, tomatoes, and nut loaf. Vegan food has come a long way, I made vegan oxtail from scratch the other day and I was delighted with the results!
What is something you wish more people knew about Caribbean cuisine?
There is this preconceived notion that all Caribbean food is spicy. I set myself the mission to prove that the Caribbean cuisine is a melting pot of different cultures with Spanish, Dutch, French and African influences.
What is one piece of advice that you would give your past self before starting this venture?
That would have to be; focus on the key items on your menu, the quality of which, during a busy period, is easy to maintain and are also quick to deliver. Too many items will cause your quality to suffer.
You also sell marinades, sauces and chutneys. What made you decide to branch out into doing this?
There is nothing like the hot sauce I grew up with, it was spicy but full of flavour and fresh and although it may burn a hole in the table cloth it is moreish! I started doing BBQ Boxes and Recipe Boxes during COVID and I enjoy the challenge of creating new things.
What do you enjoy most about working in this industry?
I know this sounds weird, but I love watching peoples’ expression when they are eating my food, it gives me great joy when they are enjoying it as that’s my heart and soul. I strongly believe if I am not happy eating it, then I should not expect my customers to.
What was your biggest success of 2022?
My biggest success was securing funding from CWRT to help me purchase a new catering van that will help me to diversify a bit more.
You have an instantly recognisable logo across your socials and on your products. How important is strong branding to you and your business?
My branding is all about my little island St. Kitts that I am so proud of. I represent my island and by using the flag as my logo it’s instantly recognisable.
You do event catering alongside your bricks and mortar premises. What do you like about event catering?
I worked as an Events Manager for 8 years and I always remembered customers coming in asking for me because they were told they should only speak to me and “leave it to Esmie” and she will make it happen for you. This is where I got my business name from. I love all event catering I strive to exceed expectations and a happy customer makes it all worthwhile.
You are planning to introduce a breakfast menu. If you don’t mind giving us a little sneak peek, what kind of things can we expect to see on that menu?
I will certainly be doing breakfast a bit different, we don’t do ordinary! We have Blue Mountain coffee, Jamaican Hot Chocolate, Trinidad Ponche de Crème. Some of the breakfast/ brunch items will be:
- Breakfast sliders, which is giant fried dumplings filled with a choice of beef rashers, chicken sausages, eggs, fried plantain or stewed saltfish. We are keen on keeping our menu Halal.
- Tostones is a popular simple Spanish/Puerto Rican dish consisting of twice fried green plantain and served with guacamole and chickpea salad.
- Doubles is Trinidad street food consisting to two fried baras filled with curry chickpea, mango chutney, tamarind sauce and cucumber salsa.
- Stewed saltfish with aubergine and fried plantain hailing from my island of St Kitts.
- Selection of Caribbean porridges and soups.