A happy balance of yin and yang, married couple Sherrie Eugene-Hart and Pat Hart have blended the cuisines from both their origins and combined their media production talents to front the televised Carib Asian Cookery Show direct from their home kitchen. Here, Produce Business UK enters into the food-mad duo’s world to learn what makes them tick and how they utilise fresh fruits and vegetables
Walking straight off a train from London into the headquarters of Bristol Community FM, my hassled morning soon fell away when I met award-winning broadcast journalist Sherrie Eugene-Hart as she came off air from the show Real Women, which she hosts at her husband Pat Hart’s Sony-winning local radio station. As soon as I took a seat, I felt like one of the family, which is pretty much the experience you get when watching the couple's unique, off-the-cuff cookery programme.
Watched by one million weekly viewers on the Made In Bristol network, the Carib Asian Cookery Show has been a success by anyone’s standards, especially when you consider it’s a local show aimed at people in Bristol; naming and using Bristol-based food shops and suppliers.
Filmed largely from Eugene-Hart and Hart’s kitchen counter, the programme is laidback in its concept as it demonstrates to its audience how to cook whatever the couple has devised. Packed with lively content, it’s a battle of cookery and cultural wills that results in an exciting fusion of food, with fresh ingredients and feeding the family at its heart.
A wide appeal
“The Carib Asian Cookery Show has been part of our lives for two years now – the programming just kept on being extended and its popularity has been overwhelming,” says Eugene-Hart, who was taught how to cook by her Dominica-born mother.
“It’s the fusion element that’s exciting for me. People know Caribbean and Asian food as two separate entities, but this is the first show that acknowledges that Carib-Asian food is out there.
“The show is about family, culture and the practicalities of everyday cooking when you have two different culinary backgrounds in the house. Because of the way we cook, our food isn’t scary for most people, which makes our recipes accessible.”
Hart, who also names his Indian late mother as his inspiration in the kitchen, explains that it all started when Sherrie started using his spices in her cooking. “Caribbean and Asian food can seem similar to the white British culture, but I think we are showing their real differences through mixing them together.
“For example, we’ll do some Caribbean patties with an Indian twist on the mince; or our yam saag aloo, which is basically the Indian spinach dish saag aloo with the Caribbean addition of sweet potato or yam; or ackee and saltfish with coriander that’s served with naan bread, and features cardamom in the seasoning process.
“The combinations really work and the Carib Asian Cookery Show has been the most popular programme on the network.”
Together for 10 years, between them the couple have four children aged from four to 18 years old, and they share their house with Hart’s 85-year-old father. The cookery show therefore is an amalgamation of combined cultures and develops recipes to suit everyone over the years.
During the programme it feels like you have wandered into a conversation between the pair, and with children coming home from school halfway through the filming or the grandfather shuffling past in the background, it’s as though you’re watching their everyday lives on the screen. Feedback indicates that viewers like their relaxed style and skill level in the kitchen too.
Although not professional cooks, Eugene-Hart and Hart’s media backgrounds led them quite naturally to open up their kitchen to viewers. With a 30-year TV career behind her, Eugene-Hart started out as a sign language interpreter for deaf viewers on the local HTV station. She moved on to reporting the news before most recently presenting the ITV show Sugar and Spice, in which she travelled the Caribbean to highlight the national dish of each island.
Hart, meanwhile, has worked for various radio programmes at the BBC and South West local radio after getting into music radio production through being a member of the rap band Freshblood,
“We are not TV chefs, we are just a normal couple cooking together in the kitchen,” reinforces Hart, who first met Sherrie 30 years ago when they presented various local industry awards together.
“It’s a genuine kitchen, with genuine arguments and clashes of methods – like most couples at home,” Hart continues. “Sherrie and I are different; I am all about the planning – what spices we’ll use, how many spoonfuls, what it’s going to look like. But Sherrie is more instinctive. She knows what she is going to do and is confident in the end dish, but she doesn’t communicate that.”
Eugene-Hart interjects that her style is as such because she don’t know exactly how her dishes are going to turn out. “It’s a creative process – taste, add, stir; a work in process,” she points out.
Hart looks to me for sign of support. I smile down at my notepad. I am keeping out of it.
Something the couple can agree on, however, is a cookery ethos that has strong ties to both the local community and growers, as well as supporting producers further afield – much akin to the nature of their Carib-Asian dishes.
“Even though in our everyday lives we have to pop to the supermarket sometimes, we make a strict effort to use local shops, suppliers and growers for the show,” answers Eugene-Hart, when asked about the couple’s sourcing policies.
“We mention companies and even names if appropriate, like when we mention our fishmonger we will make a point of saying: ask Steve to gut it for you.”
When it comes to fruits and vegetables – the basis of pretty much every meal on the Carib Asian Cookery Show – there is an “iconic” shot of a fruit and veg bowl at the start of the show each week that contains the different products they’ll use.
“It changes with every programme,” continues Eugene-Hart. “We always have green and yellow bananas, yam, plantain, coconut, avocados, citrus fruit and sweet potatoes. Then we have more local produce, which will have a seasonal element, like what we call Irish potatoes, carrots, onions, spring onions, spinach, beetroot, chillies (the local ones are really rather hot)– and mushrooms.”
Eugene-Hart and Hart also support a local community project called Feed Bristol that’s run by an organisation that encourages people to sow and harvest fruit and veg at their own allotment site. A percentage of what’s grown goes to those who need it the most in Bristol. It’s where the couple grow a lot of spinach, in particular – a big ingredient in their Carib-Asian kitchen.
“It’s not difficult to get want we need in Bristol,” says Eugene-Hart. “We are so close to the ports here and we get to experience an amazingly diverse amount of different foods. We use a lot of produce that is imported from India and the Caribbean, naturally.
“I can also go to Errol’s [BRB Caribbean Store] to ask what’s coming in tomorrow. He puts some products aside for me and I know exactly where it has come from and how many miles it has travelled. I know it’s not GM and that it’s been grown organically, as well as knowing that it is exactly what I want. And there are award-winning organic producers surrounding Bristol too.”
Fresh produce focus
Eugene-Hart says she worries for the future ‘supermarket’ generations of the UK and consumers’ understanding of fresh produce, or rather the lack thereof.
“There’s far too much packaging around,” she says. “Young people see tomatoes coming in fours and wrapped in plastic. I wouldn’t be surprised if kids thought they grew that way. They should be picking it, getting it fresh and experiencing the real feel of food. As a family we go out of our way to source homegrown food.”
“It’s all about education,” chimes in Hart. “Growers need to make their produce more accessible rather than going straight to supermarkets. We need to be able to get good food for everyday people – and to know about it in the first place. Suppliers [to us] also need to communicate with us and let us know the real cost of [producing] food and why, so we can understand the real value of it.
“There’s an idea out there that good-quality, organic fresh produce is only for well-off, middle-class people, but that’s not true. Going to local stores is so much cheaper and [you find] better quality. We are learning all the time, but there’s always more to find out when it comes to the food industry.”
On the road
So what’s next for this not-so-ordinary couple? Apart from doing a cookery demo at the upcoming London Produce Show 2016 on June 9 at The Grosvenor House hotel and publishing a cookery book called Recipes & Rhymes, their cookery show is taking to the road this summer with ‘Carib Asian Does Festivals’. After that, the duo is off to Mumbai, Trinidad and Tobago to film the show from there.
But what about their much-loved kitchen show formula? “It will still be centred around our kitchen at home, but we will introduce clips from our food travels,” says Hart. “People love our chemistry and actual real-life bickering in the kitchen at home, so we’re not going to take that away. But it will be nice to introduce our viewers to new experiences and cultures, right from our little kitchen in Bristol.”
Chefs Sherrie Eugene-Hart and Pat Hart will host a cookery demo at the London Produce Show and Conference 2016, which takes place on June 8-10.