When a cozy Black-owned restaurant in St. Lucia is named one of the best in the world, some curious observers wonder. How did a British-born chef nab that award? It was not the first recognition of excellence for Orlando’s Restaurant & Bar in Soufriere.
The award from Travel & Leisure and Food & Wine magazines is his latest accomplishment. “I was blown away. I was blown away that I was the only restaurant in St. Lucia mentioned,” says executive chef and owner Orlando Satchell.
“My story is simple. I consider myself a young Black boy from Birmingham, England who believes the best food in the world is Caribbean,” says the legendary St. Lucian. His journey from the United Kingdom to the United States, Asia and the Caribbean is more complex than that and paved with life-changing experiences.
Crafting a Chef’s Vision
Years before he trained at a culinary school in London, Chef Satchell inherited a love for cooking and West Indian ingredients from his Jamaican-born mother. “My mother has been a big part of my culinary movement. I remember growing up and going to the market with her. She would always negotiate with the vendors,” Satchell says.
His mom even put her negotiating skills to use when he was 16 and interviewing for his first job in a hotel kitchen. “Do you know she came into the interview and sat next to me? I got the job, so that’s a good thing. It wasn’t my interview, really. It was mom’s interview.”
Before long, Satchell noticed a distinct difference between his mom’s cooking and what came out of hotel kitchens. “Everywhere I went in a hotel job, I would always ask why are we not seasoning the food. Salt and pepper are not seasonings.”
As one of the few and often the only Black person in those workplaces, the future chef recognized the link between his African heritage and what he already knew about Caribbean cooking. “Our journey is food that was developed out of slavery. How do we get the best out of the lesser cuts of meat?” asks Satchell. “We have to wash it with lime. Clean it with vinegar, season it, let it sit, and then cook it. Because of our seasoning, it tastes like the best thing ever.”
The art of seasoning, marinating and presenting Caribbean cuisine in a more refined, creative manner soon became Satchell’s mission. He wanted to prove that the island cuisine he loved could be so much more than takeout or party food.
The young chef used his magnetic personality and considerable charm to convince hotel managers and promoters in London and the U.S. to let him oversee the menus at some Black events in the 1980s and '90s.
“You’d go to an event at an expensive hotel, and the food was never representative of the people. It was chicken in white wine sauce and mushroom soup,” Satchell says. He told promoters, “Why don’t you pay me a pound a plate and I will work with the hotel and make sure the food represents us?”
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Those bold moves led to a consulting gig in Singapore in 1996. Orlando’s owner created the first West Indian restaurant where people knew almost nothing about the Caribbean except Bob Marley’s music. “It was an amazing journey, amazing food in Singapore. A lot of the ingredients were familiar to what I know in the Caribbean.”
Trailblazing in St. Lucia
One thing the native of England knew very early in life is he hated cold weather. He got his opportunity to live in the Caribbean after he left Singapore. “I ended up coming as a guest chef to this hotel called Bay Gardens. They only had one hotel then in 1998. They have four now.”
Satchell sold the owners on taking a new culinary direction. He asked them, “Why don’t you give me free accommodations for two weeks in your hotel, and I will train your staff on where Caribbean cuisine should be going. That’s how I ended up in St. Lucia.”
Chef Satchell’s deep commitment to getting the same respect for Caribbean cooking received by other world cuisines drove him. Meeting the Ladera Resort general manager in Soufriere soon led to a consulting job at the five-star hotel. Satchell changed the menus at the resort’s Dasheene Restaurant to showcase the best of Caribbean cuisine.
He proved it was possible to be true to his identity and culinary inheritance while still adhering to fine-dining standards. “In my days at Ladera as the executive chef, it was very revolutionary. In the Caribbean, the mentality was that there is no way a Black guy should be in this world-renowned hotel,” Satchell adds.
The founder of Orlando’s Bar & Restaurant was a rebel with a cause. He convinced his bosses to stop importing the restaurant ingredients. Satchell scoured St. Lucia for the best local vendors capable of providing fresh, sustainable meats, fish and produce. “Ten years ago, I was taking guests to the farms, cooking at the farms, and having them pick the vegetables. I think I influenced the way people present cuisine in St. Lucia now, and practice the farm-to-table concept of buying local, supporting local.”
Condé Nast Traveler included Ladera on its list of the world’s best resorts, giving its restaurant top honors. In 2003, Chef Satchell represented Dasheene when he prepared a lavish Caribbean menu at the James Beard House in New York. He felt energized in the Caribbean as opposed to feeling out of place in England.
However, his dedication to St. Lucia and his mission cost him his first marriage and time with his son and daughter. “In life, the journeys are not to regret, but to learn what you are supposed to do. But you must also look back and reflect on decisions that affect other people in your life,” Satchell explains. “They did not have their daddy around, and that’s a disappointment of who I am as a person. My dad was never around me. I let myself down in that situation.”
Seeing the Good
Other disappointments would cloud Satchell’s sunny existence in St. Lucia. After spending 13 years developing Ladera’s culinary program, the chef got a phone call while he was out of the country, letting him know he was being replaced. “I was really Mr. Ladera. Even when I ended up leaving, they decided I wasn’t supposed to work within 1.5 miles of the hotel,” Satchell says.
The restaurateur believes the attention he attracted as a celebrated chef contributed to his departure from Ladera in December of 2011. He also had shaken up the status quo by wearing black chef’s coats and encouraging locals to come to the resort’s restaurant.
Satchell chose to focus on the good that could come out of leaving. It was time to build on his brand by following the advice he had given other Black chefs. “I’d actually encouraged my staff to remember we would not be at the hotel forever. We had to find a way to do our own independent restaurants,” Satchell says.
Orlando’s Restaurant & Bar opened for business in December of 2012. Satchell moved into a five-bedroom house and transformed the space into a sanctuary for world-class dining experiences. The location close to the Soufriere Bridge is 1.5 miles from Ladera in southwest St. Lucia.
Four other top resorts, Jade Mountain Resort, Sugar Beach Resort, Caille Blanc Villa & Hotel and Stonefield Villa Resort are also nearby, sharing the stunning Twin Pitons setting and the breathtaking Caribbean Sea. “I’m the only independent restaurant of that standard in the town of Soufriere. I feel a bit like it’s David and Goliath.”
Recipe for Rewards
It didn’t take long for Orlando’s to demonstrate its might. Trip Advisor named Satchell’s place St. Lucia’s number one restaurant in February of 2013. He was honored with France’s Gault Millau award in 2019. In addition, Satchell holds the Caribbean Chef of the Year title. Caribbean Journal moved up Orlando’s 2020 ranking from 25 to 10 on its 50 Best Restaurants list for the region. For the past three years, the Journal has recognized the food, service and ambiance that also earned the restaurant Travel & Leisure’s award for one of the world’s best places to dine.
“It has given me a profile of respectability. “The hoteliers with much greater resources are asking how did he get that award? We’re spending millions of dollars and have the best locations. How did Orlando’s get that recognition?” Satchell says.
Perhaps, it is the warm welcome, and personal attention guests experience from the moment they enter the chef’s home. It begins with a scented, cold towel before they have tasted the first forkful of dishes from Chef Satchell’s three and five-course tasting menus. “You come in; we give you a welcome drink. It is never an alcoholic beverage. It is local juice with a sugar cane stirrer,” the chef adds. “We give you a little taster. The taster says, ‘Welcome to my home.”’
The internationally-acclaimed restaurant owner wins praise for the fresh ingredients he sources from local organic gardens and farms and St. Lucia’s fishermen. Whether it is island fish and fries, cocoa grilled yellowfin tuna or warm chocolate fondant with tropical fruits, Satchell presents more than delicious food. “You can get food anywhere. What we do is give you an experience. That’s our motto. Come and share an experience at Orlando’s.”
A sign at the Soufriere restaurant reads, “Enter as strangers, leave as friends.” Some of Satchell’s thoughtful additions make the experience memorable for overseas visitors and locals. He designed mini-chairs with the names of St. Lucia communities and uses them to identify tables.
Guests start up conversations about the tiny chairs and sometimes buy them. Orlando’s also has stands placed by female guests. “When you come to the restaurant, we put a handbag stand next to you. It comes from old ideas about never putting money on the floor, even inside a handbag.”
Satchell’s hospitality goes far beyond what many owners would do for their patrons. Consider the time a party of 23 people knocked on his door after the restaurant had closed. He invited them in any way. “I told them to get what they wanted from the bar. Just write down what you take, and I’ll go into the kitchen and cook for you,” says Satchell. “They put on Facebook that it was one of the best experiences they’ve ever had.”
That is what matters to the master of Caribbean cuisine. Not so much acknowledging him as much as providing a platform for his mission. He is determined to use his creativity to win converts for what his mom taught him about cooking.
Putting love into cooking, including vegetarian or vegan dishes, is the standard Satchell taught young cooks he supervised in St. Lucia, England and the U.S. Many of them now share his vision. “Sometimes, we see food, and it looks amazing, but it tastes awful. What that tells you is there was no love,” says Satchell. “You need to have the love from somebody who cares.”
Surviving Worst of Times
Those are some of the positive outcomes the owner of Orlando’s Restaurant & Bar appreciates. But 2020 was a crushing year for Satchell, as it was for restaurateurs, chefs and hospitality workers worldwide. St. Lucia’s coronavirus restrictions have meant shutting down his restaurant several times since last March. Switching to takeout was not a viable option in Soufriere.
Nor could Satchell find a way to save the second Orlando's that opened in August of 2019. “I was the only Caribbean restaurant in Rodney Bay. But when I saw COVID coming in January, I had to make a decision. By March, I said, ‘Let me get off this train.’” The gamble on a larger restaurant with higher rents cost Satchell about $100,000 of his savings in U.S. dollars.
St. Lucia’s celebrated chef is grateful that his mother is not one of the people in Miami and so many other places suffering from the impact of the pandemic. He is also thankful for the people who are showing their support even if they cannot dine at Orlando’s. “The Americans who have come to St. Lucia, they’re happy to support me, even if it means me going to their house and cooking for them.” Satchell is also staying busy doing online cooking events.
Not all of the chef’s experiences with tourists are so uplifting. He sometimes encounters attitudes similar to what he experienced in the U.K. earlier in life. That attitude of “I’m better than you because you are Black” showed up when Satchell was a teenager working in the kitchen at a five-star hotel. A sous chef there got angry with him and slapped his face. “I reached up and slapped him back. I was 16. I can still feel the man’s unshaven beard on my hand today.”
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The young Satchell got a warning but did not lose his job. Still, over the years, he gained clarity about the hierarchy of abuse numerous culinary workers have witnessed in the world’s commercial kitchens. “I was never going to become a top English chef. But I do know my mom’s cuisine. So, that was one of the reasons I put my energy into something I could relate to and deliver at another level.”
Power of Possibilities
As a child of the '60s who grew up respecting the Civil Rights Movement, Satchell found his calling breaking through barriers and challenging the prejudices he saw applied to Black cooks and cuisines. “The institutionalization of racism translates to the food and its conversation. I think I have broken down many doors in bringing my cuisine to a new level.”
At age 58, Satchell is still a rebel and not finished with his mission. “I still think there is still a lot to be done. Success will be down the line when we see people talking about Caribbean cuisine in the same light as Indian, French and everything else.”
Although he sees progress, the restaurateur continues to urge St. Lucia’s government to do more to support the small island’s population of about 184,000 people. “I’m striving because when people come to the Caribbean, our food vendors, our fishermen, our local community people are the backbone of the tourism industry. Tourism has to be reflective of the people it represents.”
Satchell invites food vendors he works with to a free lunch every year. He would like to see a special day established to celebrate the island’s local vendors, food producers and fishermen. “Even today, you see these vendors selling the fruit. Their sons and daughters have accomplished their achievements on the backs of vendors selling food on the streets.”
The pandemic and its impact make it vital for St. Lucia to raise its tourism aim. Satchell encourages locals to welcome visitors with excellence in every arena and send them home with a thank you and a smile, even from behind a mask. “That goodbye is as equally as important as the welcome. Your last experience is your first conversation,” Satchell says.
While he waits for the day Orlando’s can welcome diners back, the chef continues to imagine a future of possibilities. He would like to open more restaurants and go to Ghana or Nigeria to research African and Caribbean cuisine connections. He keeps his optimism alive with the possibilities hope brings despite COVID’S impact on people’s businesses, jobs and lives.
“My inner energy of keeping the faith is so critical. There is a God, and that allows me to wake up in the morning with optimism, hope and faith.”
Even though he thinks it could be another year before recovery from the pandemic gets off the ground, Chef Satchell offers his recipe for surviving today’s troubles. “Take the opportunity to laugh as much as you can. At some point, there will be tears, so take the opportunity to laugh and enjoy every moment of laughter.”
Become acquainted with Orlando’s Restaurant & Bar by visiting his website. Follow Chef Orlando Satchell personally on Facebook, along with his Facebook community page. Check out the chef on Instagram.