Tucked away in the north end of Bellingham is a small oasis of the Caribbean Islands, better known as Calypso Kitchen.
A delicious aroma of West Indian spices wafted in the air as we entered this wide-open commercial kitchen space. Chef Sarah Chan greeted us and lead us over to the stainless steel workspace where she laid out the ingredients for a simple dish of what she called, Pineapple Chow.
Chan was born on the island of Trinidad. She grew up inside her grandmother’s kitchen and by her grandmother’s side, taking in all she did to prepare a meal.(Image: Chef Sarah Chan)
“Whatever she was doing in the kitchen, I was always at her side, her shadow,” Chan said. This is where it all began, her love of food, cooking, and caring for others. Her grandmother shaped Chan’s life in more ways than one. She taught her how to cook but according to Chan she also taught her how to be a good human.
Chan moved to the United States in 2006 with her three daughters, leaving her beloved Trinidad, and grandmother, for the prospects of a more secure life.
After living in New York briefly, she moved her family to Birch Bay and she currently she resides in the Bellingham area. After having difficulty finding a job she decided to create her own, and Calypso Kitchen was born.Pineapple Chow (Image: Chef Sarah Chan)
As we gathered at her counter, she began to talk and weave the story of Trinidad and its culture through food. She sliced into the ripe pineapple, dicing it into chunks, explaining how abundantly they grow in Trinidad along, and how a fruit chow is made. For this dish, she used simple ingredients of pineapple, a sweet pepper, culantro, (an herb similar to cilantro but richer in flavor), generous amounts of Himalayan salt, and a dash of pepper. The flavors of Trinidad came alive with the dominant culantro and juicy sweetness of pineapple.
She paired this chow with two salsas, a tomato and an eggplant, chips, and a hibiscus/sorrel refresher to drink, a specialty beverage she designed and is currently marketing along with her sweet and savory tamarind sauces.
Chan is a wonderful storyteller and skilled teacher. Before COVID-19 she held in-person cooking classes for up to 40 people, and they were generally full. As the pandemic caused many businesses to alter course, Chan pivoted right along with it. She began creating cooking videos, moving the stories and recipes from her kitchen classroom to a virtual classroom. Her dream for the future is to host her own cooking show, sharing the wonders of her homeland with a broader audience.Fire-roasted tomato. (Image: Chef Sarah Chan)
But she also wishes to educate more people on the issues close to her heart such as food insecurity, homelessness, and domestic violence. Once a week she prepares dishes to distribute through local food banks and homeless shelters. This is part of her Heat and Eat product line, a variety of take-out meals she developed during the pandemic with so many people staying home and staying safe. It is also her way of giving back to a community that has supported her for over a decade. She sees it as her duty to pay it forward.
“When you have something, you have to share it,” she explains. “That is how I was brought up.”
Chan currently sits on the Board of the Whatcom Dispute Resolution Center where she has served for two years passionately advocating for those individuals experiencing domestic violence. This, along with her passion of food security for all is testimony to her grandmother’s teachings on how to be a good person.Mango Chutney (Image: Chef Sarah Chan)
No matter what your budget or where you shop, there is always room for you at the Calypso Kitchen table, where Chan will delight in teaching you the secrets to Caribbean cooking. Find all her product lines, meals, and class list on her website, Calypso Kitchen. The Heat and Eat meals can be pre-ordered for in-store pick-up.
Then get ready for a good meal and a good time. The door is always open.
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