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Restaurant Takeover: Chef Andrea Nicholson Takes Us Behind the Scenes

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Posted by : Andrea Nicholson, Fri, Oct 19 2012

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The Royal Caribbean truly felt like a tropical storm had blown through it and no one picked up the pieces. It was in desperately in need of Restaurant Takeover’s help.

I received a call from Crystal, who is the daughter of The Royal Caribbean owner Ainsley. She told me that the restaurant was in dire need of help; the decor was ragged, the food was suffering from lack of passion, and her father was burnt out, not to mention was suffering from some serious health issues. Crystal also mentioned that if Restaurant Takeover didn't help, they would eventually have to close their doors.

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The Decor 

The decor of the Royal Caribbean was extremely outdated and off-putting. The walls had, as I called it, “boiled plantain” paint, which really looked just plain dirty. Mirrored glass covered the walls (who wants to watch themselves eat?). The tiles on the floor were all chipped, grimy and not at all suited for a restaurant.
Fake dusty plants and dirty hot sauce bottles were the added decorations which just added to the storm. Needless to say, Montana had her work cut out for her.

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The Food 

I was really excited to get into the kitchen with Ainsley. I love Caribbean Food and I have a fair amount of experience with the cuisine and culture. My husband is Jamaican and I have travelled to almost every Caribbean island.


There is no doubt that Ainsley can cook the classic Jamaican dishes. His oxtail, jerk chicken, goat and whole fish were amazing and exactly how they should taste. It was the dishes that were not Caribbean that were the problem. The vegetarian pasta dish that he cooked for me was absolutely horrid and there were actually about 6 other ingredients in that dish that did not make the cut (like hoisin sauce, thyme, garlic powder, hot peppers and seasoning salt). So needless to say that dish was one of the worst things I have ever put into my mouth. I was actually more worried that my unborn baby would be eating it too!!


At that point, I had seen enough and was really looking forward to getting Ainsley into the RTO kitchen and showing him some fresh new approaches to Caribbean cuisine.

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Teaching an old dog new tricks! 

Ainsley had been working at Royal Caribbean 7 days a week, struggling through 14 hour days for years. He was completely burnt out and lacked any passion or energy towards his menu. My job here was to make his life and work as simple as possible and to re-energize him and the menu. On RTO kitchen day, Mister Outgoing, Ainsley, was so nervous to cook with me we give him a little shot of rum to loosen him up. I don’t condone drinking on the job but for the first time, behind the camera, it was necessary!
The three dishes that I showed Ainsley are so easy to execute and really tied into the Jamaican theme. A solid vegetarian dish should have substance, flavour and creativity. And the Jamaican curry pumpkin stew has all those things. It has texture, and it’s spicy and cooked with love.
In the next two dishes, I wanted to incorporate the vibrant and fresh Caribbean fruits and veggies that are so commonly used in the cuisine, like Cho-Cho, plantain, avocado, hearts of palm and coconut. Ainsley was so receptive and reinvigorated to be cooking with ingredients he grew up with. I definitely sparked his flame again and showed him the potential that his restaurant has.

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The Reveal 

Now it was time to show Ainsley and Crystal the hard work that the RTO team had been doing for the past 6 days. Ainsley was so nervous and excited to see the work and couldn't wait to get in there, and more importantly show off his new place to his customers.
Montana and I walked them both in and they both let out this amazing gasp and were totally grateful. Montana completely captured the cool Caribbean beach feeling and gave Ainsley and Crystal the Royal Caribbean of their dreams.

All of Ainsley and Crystal’s family and friends were in attendance to celebrate with them and it was time for one more surprise and truly the highlight for me. I had the privilege of presenting Ainsley with a trip back home to Jamaica! With the renovation and a trip to plan for, Ainsley was like a new man. That night, before all the RTO crew left, he was already in his kitchen cooking up new dishes and was so excited to open the doors and begin his new chapter.


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Posted: by Andrea Nicholson
Filed under: restaurant takeover

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