Privé: Chef Marcel Clarke Tantalises with Clinary Delights

Desirée Phillip talks to Barbados-born, Canadian-trained and globally experienced Marcel Clarke who is Chef/Owner at Privé {Culinary & Design}, a boutique catering company focused on producing events, products and dishes for a clientele that is used to experiencing the exceptional.

It seems like you have travelled the world – at least a good bit of it – experiencing a vast array of culinary delights. What has brought you back to Barbados?

I’ve actually been back for about eight years now (time certainly flies). Before my return, I moved country or city almost every two years over an 11-year period. After finishing my Masters in International Hotel and Restaurant Management in London, I started to ask, ‘Where next?’. I briefly thought about somewhere in Asia but, ultimately, home was an easy choice. I always wanted to return home while I was young and enjoy the vibrancy of Caribbean life. There is a beauty in Caribbean life that I haven’t found elsewhere. Plus, I thought it was a great time for the Caribbean culinary scene. I’m thankful that this continues to be true. It’s really been the best decision.

What are you most proud of in your professional accomplishments?

Obviously starting Privé {Culinary & Design} because it’s mine, and continuing to shape it into what I envision is a constant challenge but one that keeps me going. However, I am particularly proud of my time spent working in Nobu Matsuhisa’s flagship Michelin-starred London restaurant, Nobu Parklane. It was one of the hardest jobs I’ve had. Working most days 18 hours and it was relentless—200 people for lunch and 400 for dinner and at a consistently high standard. During my time there we were on the San Pellegrino world top 50 restaurant list, which is a major achievement. To go into that environment and to succeed was amazing. The first three months were punishing, feeling like you were nowhere near ready for this standard or pace of cooking; everyone seemed faster and far, far better. After a while of the constant questioning by the chef if something was wrong or if I really wanted to do this, I realised, ‘but I’m still here so I must be doing something right’. But the day Nobu himself was having dinner, the Chef said to me to make his dinner and “do the same beautiful fish you always make”. In my head I thought ‘is he sure he’s talking to me?’ However, at that point I knew I had gotten past the hump. I really treasure my time in that elite environment.

What’s your next conquest?

We are always looking for what’s next. Growth. I started Privé {Culinary & Design} completely by myself, with my family’s help, while sitting on my parents’ verandah. Slowly adding staff and expanding the business. Growth is key but it must be controlled and the output consistent. We have some products in development that we are planning to start rolling out soon. We want to make the flavours of Privé {Culinary & Design} more accessible. What we are also particularly excited for are our events that are set to launch in 2019.


You’ve worked at some of the most amazing restaurants, and now you’re chief-cook-and-bottle-washer of your own catering company. Do you miss the restaurant life at all, and how different is what you do now?

There are some things I do miss about restaurant life but ultimately you choose the life you want. So I definitely don’t miss it more than I love what I’m doing now. In restaurants, life is very routine. Service starts at the same time every day and the menu is pretty much the same. But improving the process was always fun for me. The coordination of the kitchen when it’s working well is beautiful. When I was working as the Operations Manager at a local restaurant I made improving the process in creating events an important part of my job. Getting the information on menus and timelines organised and communicated to both the front and back of the house early was vital. It is just as important or even more so in catering as your venue is always changing. In catering, every day is different. It’s a challenge to keep being creative, and you are constantly working in different spaces. I enjoy the variety and creating the new dishes and being able to change the menu to fit the client, while introducing them to our focus.

Think you’ll ever open a restaurant?

Never say never. I was discussing this recently with a friend but I have a few things I want to achieve before I reach there. I have spent a lot of time designing restaurants in my head and on paper and trying to create what I would want in a space, but timing is important as is patience.

What sets Privé apart from other catering companies on island?

Quality and creativity. I set my standard and it is extremely important that it is always maintained. I have been very lucky in my career to work with some very high quality establishments, and in working for them I was able to pick up some things that I wanted to achieve when it comes to standards. I work closely with the client to create a menu that fulfils their needs while introducing them to our ethos of boutique island cuisine.


What sets you apart from others in your field?

There are a lot of talented chefs in Barbados but I believe my creativity and imagination are what set me apart. I also am interested in developing young chefs and introducing them to more than just cooking, so I include them in the planning and help foster their ideas. Also, my international training and my training in business. One does not work without the other. You can be the most creative chef but if you can’t run a business you won’t succeed. The same follows that if you are focused solely on the business but the quality of your product isn’t there you won’t keep the interest of your customers.


What’s your specialty?

Luckily, I am pretty well versed in a number of cuisines but with Privé {Culinary & Design} we are focusing on our boutique island cuisine. This offers a taste of the modern Caribbean; a sophisticated look at Caribbean life and cuisine using local ingredients, influences and presentation.

Are there any unique dishes that you’ve specifically created?

Our Passion Fruit Ceviche, one of our signature dishes, has had a great reception. It’s light and fresh, filled with fresh herbs and local fish. It was well received at the recent Taste of the Spirits of Polo at the Barbados Food and Rum Festival. 

What can the culinary world look forward to from you for the holidays?

For the holidays, Privé {Culinary & Design} is going sweet. We haven’t really focused on the sweet side so far but we figured that the holidays are a great time to introduce some products that would be fun for the season. Our line of Tartes X {PC&D} specialty cake loaves, along with a number of other products like our bacon jam that are perfect for foodies, will be ready for orders for the holidays.


What are people wanting most on their Christmas menus?

Besides the obvious, HAM! (Try our All Spice Pineapple Glazed Ham or our Sorrel Ginger Glazed Ham). However, duck is seeing a real resurgence. This year we are doing a Tamarind Glazed Whole Duck or Duck Breast.

Tell us a bit about how you ‘design’ a menu for a catering event?

The goal is that you have the food to fit the event, then a balance of flavour, texture and temperature and pace of service. Balance is the key. So something fried, roasted, hot, cold. I get a feel for what the client wants and then work with the client to fine-tune it. We have our signature food but then we also infuse the specific needs of the client. We try to create a standout dish for each event with complimentary dishes leading up to it to create a focal point of the event. We always want the last dish to be the most memorable.


How busy are you for the holidays?

Bookings are starting to come in earlier this year. We are not fully booked yet but it is looking to be a good season. We have a number of repeat clients who have booked very early to secure their events. 

Tips on making the best menu:

An intimate holiday get-together at home with family and friends

Do as much beforehand as possible. Find recipes that you can do two or three days in advance and keep it simple. You don’t want to spend all of your time away from family and friends.

 An office Christmas lime

That thing you make that kills it every time, make that! But make it simple and preferably something that can be eaten either by hand or just with a fork. A good tip to remember—office parties are rarely sit-down affairs where you can eat with knife and fork. It might help to have dishes that soak up alcohol as well. You don’t want office limes getting out of hand.


A holiday three-course sit-down meal

Make things that you have done before. You can put a bit of a twist on it to make it special but be careful trying something completely new on the night that you have to produce it. Maybe you can try one new thing but I would suggest you practise it first. The holidays are stressful enough without adding a botched meal when you have family and friends arriving for a sit-down meal.


Tel: (246) 828-6326