BY ALYSSA MAHADEO
When we think of a restaurant serving authentic Jamaican cuisine, we consider your typical dishes of classic jerk chicken, rice and peas. Usually it comes from a hole in the wall establishment served in a styrofoam container with very little aesthetic value and if you’re lucky you might get little bit of coleslaw on the side.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to enjoy that same food in a more upscale or presentable atmosphere? Out in the town of Orangeville, one of those rare places does exist, a place where you can enjoy Jamaican cuisine in a fine dining establishment with all of the flavors and comforts of home. Soulyve Restaurant, tucked away on the corner of 34 Mill Street in downtown Orangeville is the perfect mix of Caribbean culture in a more modernized and smart way.
Chef and owner of Soulyve Restaurant, Philip DeWar was born in Jamaica and immigrated to Canada in 1998 where he took up residence in Brampton. Brampton was nowhere near being the city that it has evolved into today, but there were still many different cultures reflected in the community. When Philip moved to Orangeville in 2000, he realized that he had taken the diversity of Brampton for granted as the foods that he had grown up with and had grown accustomed to were no longer as easily accessible in his new community.
At one point in his high school ventures he found himself in heap of trouble. Facing suspension he had to make the decision to give up his lunch for detention. Not having much of a choice he was subjected to life in the cafeteria every lunch hour. His principal sent him to work in the cafeteria to teach him a lesson where he hoped its desired effect would be to embarrass or discourage him from making more trouble. Fortunately for Philip it did just the opposite, becoming a blessing in disguise giving him credibility in school at his new station, making him master of a new type of hustle. Besides the equity that it gave him with his peers, Philip actually enjoyed working with the ladies in the cafeteria.
He found that through his every day practice he actually had some skills in food preparation. Growing up in a Jamaican household it was customary to help prepare meals and be an active presence in the kitchen while your parents were making dinner. In a family of six kids everyone was expected to pitch in and do their part to put dinner on the table. Philip decided to set a new course of action, taking the prerequisite courses he needed to step into the culinary arts, learning about what it takes to do this type of work. He wasn’t strong academically, but he had a knack for the culinary arts and it became a love affair that he continued to feed.
His woodworking teacher at the time recognized his strengths and urged him to consider a career path in the culinary field, informing him that it was possible for him to make a living with his talents making him understand that you don’t have to be a straight ‘A’ student to make a name for yourself in the world.
After graduating from High School, he took some time off and started working at Hockley Valley Resort just outside of Orangeville, honing his skills for two years, before enrolling himself in the culinary arts program at Humber College and keeping his job there part time. In his studies, he was required to take a Hospitality course, where he learned about proper service, food, beverages and wine. His was able to experience the service industry from all aspects, but his favourite was the semester he was able to get back into the kitchen. Working in the kitchen re-ignited his passion, he realized, “I didn’t want to be working at a front desk, or even in a host position, I wanted to be in the kitchen, behind the fire, making a difference introducing people to what I knew was good food.”
All he had learned about since coming to Canada was about the exquisite taste and flavors of the French, Italian and Chinese cuisines. There were many high end restaurants in the GTA that offered an upscale dining experience to its customers, but it made him wonder, where were all of the fancy Jamaican restaurants?
He realized that although there were places that you could buy Caribbean cuisine, it wasn’t being represented as a glamorous dining experience, because the reputation that had been established in the city was of grungy, hole in the wall establishments, in the back of a strip mall plaza that gave the food a cheap and understated appearance.
When he took stock of the type of people that were paying money to stay in lavish hotels, or travel to an all inclusive resort in the Caribbean it wasn’t Caribbean people it was everyone else living in Canada, the Europeans, the Asians, the Mediterranean cultures that wanted to experience the beauty of the islands and taste authentic food from the Caribbean not those that were already familiar with it.
Philip realized he needed to do something different, he needed to put Caribbean cuisine back on the map and give it the attention it deserved, putting it back on top of the pedestal with the other lavish dining experiences that people sought after.
“The Caribbean people have devalued their product,” he shares. “In our community we have simplified it to the point that if it’s not in a takeout container with enough gravy or stewed a certain way it, it isn’t authentic.”
At Soulyve Restaurant, Philip has strived to take Caribbean food to the next level, giving each dish his own unique spin mixing up the tastes and flavors of other popular cuisines and creating his own medley of crowd pleasing favorites. In his kitchen you can find dishes like Plantain Bruschetta, Tamarind Glazed Short Rib, Guava Glazed Salmon, Guyanese Curry Chicken, Hot Trini doubles, Samosas, Jamaican Patties, ensuring to keep classics like Jerk Pork, Oxtail with peas and rice alive and offering a little something for everyone to sample a taste of the Caribbean in a chic welcoming and homey environment.
Soulyve is a licensed establishment carrying your favorite brews from the islands for when you are craving an ice cold Carib or a bottle of Red Stripe. Just last year they moved to their new establishment, right down the street from the old one, to accommodate for the demand for more space. By next summer they are hoping to have a fully operational outdoor patio service, expanding their catering services and booking more group parties and events in the second floor private guest rooms.
Featured on the Food Network’s ‘You Gotta Eat Here!’ Philips establishment is definitely somewhere you can bring everyone; whether it is on a first date, or a casual girls night out. He wants to keep the culture and heritage of the Caribbean alive through the food he serves and the live Caribbean vibes. Soulyve offers an authentic Caribbean dine-in experience that won’t disappoint, so head on out to Orangeville today and check them out. You’ll definitely do a double take!