New Yorkers crave anything fast, easy and most importantly efficient.
Show me a New Yorker who is not on-the-go and it is 99.9 percent most likely that they are actually a tourist.
Speaking to Caribbean-American New Yorkers, Chef Samuel Branch makes island street food perfect for those New York minutes we are unable to spare.
“For me it was about giving Caribbean food but I didn’t want to go the typical rice and peas route. I love to eat that, but I didn’t want to showcase that because I feel there is more to the Caribbean from a standpoint of being a food vendor where it is stuff that you can take on the go,” Chef Sam said.
Barbadian born and New York raised, Chef Sam finds inspiration in his roots. Launching his food stand Mr. Cutters two years ago, Chef Sam initially provided “cutters” or sandwiches as it is called in Barbados as well as authentic Bajan fish cakes. “Cutter was a sandwich from Barbados and the way that worked is when we got into Smorgasburg all I wanted to make was fish cake and cutter sandwiches. We got into this particular concept of doing a fish cutter, which is very popular and when we were playing around with names I just came up with Mr. Cutters because that was the thing I grew up on in Barbados,” Chef Sam said.
With his vast experience in cooking, tracing back to his own childhood, studies at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and preparing meals for stars such as Will Smith, Chef Sam decided to approach his company with another angle.
“From when Mr. Cutter started, it kind’ve turned into this thing where it’s not specifically about Barbados — that’s where the roots is coming from — but instead it’s like an extension of the Caribbean,” he said.
Refining another favorite island treat, after many trials and errors, Chef Sam announced himself as the “Pattie King.” Taking the street food usually likened to those of Jamaican heritage, Chef Sam puts his own twist on things by combining flavors of other islands into the traditional snack.
“Now, we do our cutter fish sandwich as a special here and there but we’ve expanded to push island snacks, meaning small bites, things that aren’t necessarily going to weigh you down like heavy traditional foods. Right now, we carry patties and people know them as Jamaican patties but we call them island patties,” he said. “To make it a little different – though they look very similar – I pull inspiration and flavors from all over. In my curry chicken, I use Guyanese curry because that is my favorite curry. You’ll probably see a salt fish pattie from me down the line which is inspired by Haitian patties. I’ve also been working on patties with channa in it which is inpsired by Trinidad.”
Aside from the mash-up of flavors, the self-proclaimed “Pattie King” is also proud to use all local ingredients from Caribbean markets – appealing to the Brooklyn Whole Food’s sustainability message. “We were doing patties for a while. We started last April and I think it was around three months later a little buzz was building and we received an email from a store in Brooklyn reached out to me. The question was, ‘are your patties clean for a Whole Food market standard,” he said.
Utilizing grass-fed beef and free range chicken in his patties, Chef Sam’s local sourcing enticed Whole Foods to take him on initially as a pop-up food vendor.
The new partnership with Whole Food’s allows for Chef Sam to not only feed another major audience during his pop-ups, but it also allows for him to explore the idea of “pre-packaging” his beef patties.
“The goal was to get us in as a pop-up food vendor based there some times but then we spoke about can we do pre-pack,” he said. “Pre-pack is to sell patties on the shelves for customers to just grab and go. Like a salad, it’s on the shelves ready to go, you don’t have to wait for it to be made just take it to the register. Patties has the same concept because it’s something that holds well, freezes well but in this case it’ll have maybe three to four day shelf life. So you’d buy it and eat it same day.”
While Chef Sam has received a lot of praises for his inventive, island snacks, it is often that he meets other Caribbean-Americans who are skeptical of his authenticity.
Like other new-generation Caribbean-Americans, his fusions speak to a millennial audience versus the typical sit-down restaurant serving rice and peas and stewed meats.
“People come in and say ‘this is not this, this is not that’ but I like to say that’s old school,” he said. “I respect the tradition and where the food comes from but there’s nothing wrong with fusing it and changing it a little bit. We’re changing it to the younger generation’s palates, we’re changing it to the health conscious but for me it’s trying to take where those traditions come from and adding my flare to it. I will never say this is a traditional beef patty but I will say ‘this is inspired by.’”
Chef Sam is proud to be in the conversation of new and inventive Caribbean restaurants contribting to New York — specifically Brooklyn’s — diverse Caribbean communities. It seems every other day a new restaurant is opening with a fresh focus on traditional flavors such as Rawlston Williams’ The Food Sermon located on Rogers Avenue between Sullivan Place and Montgomery Street.
Despite Brooklyn’s changing communities due to gentrification, it is obvious that the Caribbean culture’s hold on Brooklyn will not be shaken. “People are loving Caribbean food. People are opening Caribbean restaurants who aren’t even Caribbean and that is the reality of it. People are loving the culture, people travel — there’s a lot popping up,” he said. “Places that you find are gentrifying like Crown Heights, down Nostrand Avenue, Bedstuy, Flatbush — a lot of Caribbean people have been there and even though you might see some places going down there’s always some new Caribbean spot opening up.”
Find Mr. Cutters at Smorgasburg in Williamsburg on Saturdays, Brooklyn Bridge Park on Sundays and other various locations throughout Brooklyn. Follow Mr. Cutters on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for all foodie updates.