If celebrities can actually cook, it makes them seem more like us ordinary folks. When T&T entertainer Rachel Price updated her Facebook status with details of how she cooked a lavish Sunday lunch that included macaroni pie, chicken, fish, provisions and oxtail, I was intrigued. I can’t remember what my comment was, but I recall her response: “Next time you come to Trinidad, bring whoever you like and I’ll cook something real nice for you.”
Rachel Price is a controversial figure. Her stand-up comedy routines have always been close to the bone. She doesn’t mince words in her somewhat abrasive style, and she’s had more than a few high-profile spats.
But once you get behind the tough talk, Pricey – as she’s called by many people – is a down-to-earth woman with an extremely generous spirit.
What most people don’t know is that Price has certificates to prove she can cook. She honed her culinary skills at the “Hotel School” – the Trinidad & Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute.
“I made my first pelau at seven or eight,” she said. “I grew up with my grandmother and great-grandmother and we had a maid who was Seventh Day Adventist, and never worked on a Saturday.
“We had a box so I could reach the stove, a box made for me. I would stand on the box and Mama would tell me what to do, what to put in the pot and all that.”
Price got pregnant as a teenager, and, caught in a position of having to provide for her daughter Carmyen, she relied on cooking. She juggled work – usually at fast-food joints – going to school and selling homemade goodies.
“On Friday, I would always end my shift during the day so I could bake whole night, and the next morning, I would set up outside Hi-Lo [supermarket] and sell guava cheese, cheese straws, and cupcakes. Now I see cupcakes are the biggest thing on the market!”
Those days are long gone. Price, 36, is firmly established in her comedy career, and has a radio show and a popular Carnival television show, so cooking is more of a pleasure than a hustle.
“I can’t say I have a favourite thing to cook. I ask people what they like. I might want to do oil down or coo coo, and they might want something light like fried rice or stir-fried vegetables.
“I just like, when people eat my food, they must always get the wow factor. I must hear, ‘Oh gorm, Pricey!’ If I eh hear dat, I eh feel good at all.”
I’ve experienced that “oh gorm, Pricey” feeling. During my last visit to Trinidad, I took up her offer of a home-cooked meal. Within an hour of getting there, I was digging into a plate of macaroni pie, dasheen oil down, fried fish and salad.
I was amazed at how quickly Price put this meal together as we laughed and talked. The secret had to be good preparation. A close look at her kitchen organisation would make many top chefs proud.
“Cooking is not a long thing, good food is 70 per cent preparation. Devote a day to going to the market, making sure your things are blanched and put away,” she advised. “For example, I buy my oxtail, carry it home and season it. Then I cook it in the slow cooker, put it in freezer bags, put the date on the bags and so if I want oxtail soup, I take it out, put it in some boiling water and I go my way!”
Food used to be a refuge from life’s issues, for Rachel Price. Fifteen years ago, she weighed 125 lbs, but after a succession of bad relationships and comfort eating, her weight ballooned to over 300 lbs.
“Back in the day, I was embroiled in so many bad relationships, I would turn to food for comfort. I’d actually fall asleep with biscuits or cookies in my mouth.
“And I like being in the kitchen. I suppose when you look back at it, as a child, those were my days of love, when I would stand in the kitchen with my great-grandmother to cook and talk. Some people reach for a chocolate bar; I would reach for cocoa powder and bake a chocolate cake.”
The penny dropped for Price one Carnival, when she had a hectic season working as the MC in a calypso tent. A dose of late-night eating left her ill. She had gone to an all-night fast food restaurant for chicken and chips, as usual.
“I passed that night for my normal – a big mauby, a four-piece and fries. I reached home and ate in the car – eating away my troubles if you like – and slept in the car. I was too lazy to get out.
“Next morning I got out of the car vomiting. I was very sick. My ankles were swollen, I couldn’t breathe and when I got to the steps, I collapsed. I could not walk up the steps. I sat there for a while and by the time I got the strength I get upstairs, I called my doctor.”
“My doctor said, ‘The next step for you is a stroke, and the child you so love will be an orphan. So you make your pick, madam. You have to do something about this’.”
Price started slowly, by drinking more water and cutting out sugar. It took her a year to lose 100 pounds. Now, a much smaller, healthier Rachel Price boasts of hard gym workouts, gruelling runs and better food choices.
She’s all the happier because her husband, Christian, is also a great cook.
“My pleasant surprise, when I fell in love with my husband, was that he could cook,” she said. “He would come into the kitchen when I buy all my fish and chicken, and he seasons it, he puts them away and just points out where things are in the freezer.
“It started in the kitchen. In the early days he would come around and help, be in the kitchen, and we’d talk and be together, and that formed a basis for us.”
So for Rachel Price, the kitchen is more than food and cooking, it’s also a place of love and togetherness.