Turning their love for food into an exciting online food movement came as second nature to husband-and-wife team Mirella and Joel Villafana. Trinicooks.com is the result of a joint effort between the couple whose love for food and experimenting has inspired one of the most popular local food websites.
Trinicooks.com offers a wide array of local and international recipes, featured food news, events and restaurants. There is a massive collection of recipes on the website featured under Trini recipes, creole creations, Indian delights, Tobago delight, street food and more. Every week new contents are added along with tantalising pictures. To date there are over 2,000 recipes on the website.
After almost a decade, the website continues to be their passion that has turned into a brand. Knowing their passion for all things culinary you would expect Mirella and Joel to run their own restaurant—and you’d be right but a restaurant is not their focus—at least not now.
The website is their recipe for happiness which they manage aside from their hectic day jobs— Mirella is into advertising and Joel is a popular TV6 sports presenter. The success of the website has inspired other ventures like Joel Eats, Buy Local Cook Local and Star Ingredient in collaboration with La Cantina Pizzeria Restaurant and AS Bryden and Foodie Fridays which is the theme on Cup of Joe, the new mid-morning TV show.
The website is a household name especially where local food events are concerned. In fact the couple have described the website as a growing online community that blends cultures. They have ventured to regional food events like the Barbados Food Festival and the Tobago Culinary Festival and Blue Food Festival.
The couple believe that when it comes to food, people’s palates are more educated and sensitive than before. They both agree that the local restaurant industry has grown and become more diverse and with the increased interest in cooking shows and various food websites people have become more open to experiencing new food options.
As a young single woman Mirella enjoyed trying out new recipes, in fact thumbing through recipe books seemed more exciting than any bestselling novel. Her aim was to go to culinary school, but few paths are simple and things didn’t go as planned.
She ended up pursuing General Social Sciences at university and then ended up in the advertising industry, yet still recipes continued to inspire the food connoisseur.
Her recipe books were her prized possessions so much so that when she married she had acquired over 1,000 recipe books. When it came to preparing local dishes, however, she found that some recipes were hard to find.
Eventually Mirella pitched the website idea to Joel, a self-confessed foodie who immediately supported his wife. From the get-go, their aim was to create a forum for food lovers who can share recipes and tips and tricks for improving dishes. Soon the pair realised that food is both universal and social; people love to eat, talk about it and share it with others.
The pair recently talked about their shared passion and culinary prowess and how the website got started eight years ago.
While Joel praised his wife for her “restaurant-quality food”, he describes his palate as more adventurous than his wife’s.
“We both loved to eat. We were foodies before the Trini Cooks concept, so it was a passion that we both shared. Outside of sports and journalism my other passion is food. My wife cooks the restaurant-quality food but my palate is more adventurous. We follow food so wherever there is food we are there. We are not a food blog, although there are blog features.
We are really a food recipe-based website. When people hear Trini Cooks we want them to think recipes. The website is a passion that eventually evolved into a brand. My hope for the website is that it will continue to grow and become the go-to place people visit for both local and international food enthusiasts. We want to continue following food. Wherever there is food we want to be there,” Joel said.
Mirella said the standard of food in the culinary industry has grown. “Over the years it has been interesting and pleasurable to see how the restaurant industry has grown. Food websites and blogs have also evolved and are increasingly becoming popular. With the dawn of the Food Network and even more food websites and with people travelling and experiencing new flavours they are more exposed to enjoying food in different ways.
“If you look around our local restaurant industry there are a lot of different types of restaurants opening and a lot of them try to incorporate fusions, including the Trini style. Ten, 15 years ago, you had little to choose from and when you look at the restaurant landscape now it is vastly different and its happening right through the country, not just in Port of Spain.
Things are happening in the East-West Corridor, in Central and South, all over there are gourmet coffee shops opening and now people are getting into that food experience and it’s not just about going out and eating something to fill your stomach, it’s about that holistic experience; it’s really more diverse,” Mirella said.
The couple are looking forward to another segment of the Star Ingredient in which La Cantina’s chefs take on the challenge presented by Trinicooks.com, to use a selected ‘star ingredient’ in every course of a sensational seven-course dinner.
The next Star Ingredient event is carded for August.
SWEET POTATO SOUP
1 pound of sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced
½ pound of regular potatoes, peeled and sliced
2 carrots, sliced
1 large onion, chopped
1 tablespoon of butter
1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 cups of vegetable stock
¼ cup of white wine
1 teaspoon of chives, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of thyme, finely chopped
4-6 strips of bacon
1 teaspoon of chopped parsley to garnish
Cook bacon until crisp. Chop and set aside. Reserve a little of the bacon fat. Boil sliced potatoes in a stockpot; add wine to the water, simmer potatoes for 40-45 minutes.
Strain and set aside potatoes. Heat butter and oil in a saucepan; sauté onions, carrots, chives and thyme. Stirring for 5-7 minutes until carrots are tender.
In a large pot, combine potatoes with onion mixture and in batches puree potatoes in a food processor or blender until smooth. Transfer back to the pot, over medium heat and add salt and pepper to taste.
While soup is simmering you may add more vegetable stock if needed and finally add rendered bacon fat to soup.
The texture will be thick. Serve hot garnished with chopped bacon and parsley.
SHRIMP IN CHADON BENI
AND GARLIC BUTTER SAUCE
12 - 14 large shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 - 3 tbsp chopped chadon beni
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
2 oz butter
4 - 5 cloves garlic, minced
1 small tomato, diced
Extra 3 blades chadon beni, chopped
1 lime, halved
Place the shrimp in a bowl. Add the chadon beni, paprika, salt and black pepper. Mix well and let marinate for at least half hour. Just before cooking squeeze the juice of ½ the lime over the shrimp. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the tomatoes and garlic. Stir for one minute. Add the shrimp in one layer in the pan.
Cook for approximately two minutes. Turn onto the other side and cook for one to two minutes more or just until cooked. Add the extra chopped chadon beni and the juice from the remaining lime. Mix quickly and place in a serving dish. Serve immediately
CURRY AND HERB BAKED SALMON
4 - 6 salmon fillets
2 tbsp fresh green seasoning
2 tbsp curry powder
½ tbsp cumin powder
1 tsp paprika
Juice of 1 lime
Few drops pepper sauce
½ tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ onion, chopped
½ sweet pepper, chopped
A little olive oil
Season the salmon fillets with the green seasoning, curry powder, paprika, cumin, lime juice, salt, black pepper and pepper sauce. Let marinate for ½ hour to one hour. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a baking dish lightly with cooking spray. Place the salmon in the greased dish. Top each fillet with the chopped onion and sweet pepper. Drizzle with a little olive oil. Bake in the oven for approximately 15 -20 minutes or just until the salmon is cooked. Remove and serve.
1 chicken, cleaned and cut into 8 parts
Juice of 1 lime
1 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp coriander powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 blades chadon beni, chopped
2 tbsp chopped celery leaves
2 tbsp soy sauce
3 -- 4 tbsp olive oil
Wash chicken, pat dry and set aside. In a large bowl, add the cinnamon, coriander, chilli powder, salt and black pepper.
Mix well. Add the olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, chadon beni, celery and lime juice. Stir until well combined. Add the chicken parts to mixture, rubbing the mixture all over and under the skin of the chicken. Cover and let marinate in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or preferably overnight. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
Spray a roasting pan or large pyrex dish with a little cooking spray. Place chicken in a single layer in pan. Place in oven and bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove and let rest for five minutes before serving.