Syd Murphy: Creating the elegance of taste

By. Dr. Richard A Byron-Cox

I was given the customary greeting. “Richard! Man, welcome home!” I had come specifically for the food as Sydney Murphy’s genius and ingenuity at cooking is legendary in this, our native St. Vincent. My eyes surveyed the lovely decorative sweetness, the colours of the tapestry, and the aesthetics on the set tables, enticingly beckoning, “You are very welcome to dine.”

“What yo’ drinking?” He asked

“Oh, I am off alcohol,” I said breaking into a laughter when he shot me the expected stare that said, “You gone crazy!”

“You have any local juices?” I unnecessarily enquired.

I was served house-made sorrel as it was Christmas. Here began my two-hour excursion into the tasteful world of St. Vincent’s finest chef. Syd’s sorrel had his special touch, signalled by a variety of underlying flavours mesmerising my palate.

“So how things going?” I asked.

He explained that Oleander reopened after a few years break due to popular demand. I was among those literally harassing this master chef to return. Syd has been at the top of this game more than thirty years, beginning as proprietor of his once world-famous Syd’s Restaurant and Pub, where the likes of jazz great, Wynton Marsalis and soul giant, Percy Sledge dined. He and wife, Michelle then established the equally famous Buccoma-on-the-Bay. Here he entertained the likes of Johnny Depp of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame, and soul singer, the great Roberta Flack.

Oleander, brainchild of Michelle, is located at the western end of capital city Kingstown. Upon entry, one is embraced by Michelle’s (a florist and hence the name) artistic fervour. There is the consciously quaint, very relaxed atmosphere, and lively yet soft colours adorning the setting. The solid-wood furnishing is immaculately polished with tables placed, allowing discreet conversation, yet social warmth. Everything invites you to eat even if you only came to have a drink.

Syd informed, “We didn’t advertise, yet people are making their way here.” As he continued, Dwight Hillocks, a mutual friend I had invited to lunch, arrived. We chose a table.

“What would you prefer Sir, fish, meat, …….” This was a serious predicament for me. Syd’s cooking is master class!! Simple fact! Consequently, whatever you choose leaves you with the pain of the opportunity cost syndrome. Dwight also in this gastronomic quandary, settled for fish. I, being in a wanting-everything pickle, requested the waiter’s assistance.

“Try the wilks” he said. I assented and we ordered drinks. I had another Sorrel. Dwight also had a house-made drink for like me, he knows Syd -who had disappeared into the kitchen-, has platinum taste buds in preparing food and drink. We talked of the restaurant’s finery, its elegant yet quiet charm, seemingly whispering, “Want to impress your lady or a diplomat; want style and class with a discreet boast? This is the place.”

Indeed, two tables from us were staff from the British High Commission. After dining they were perfused in their compliments to Syd.

“Your fish Sir,” said the waiter addressing Dwight. Moments later my wilks landed. Syd is Michael Angelo in placing food on a plate. Pure artistry! Dwight’s was lightly trimmed with potatoes, colourful with the right-sized accompaniment of vegetables, all lightly criss-crossed by a white sauce. My wilks were in a cone-shaped mound surrounded at the base by vegetables. Garlic bread was served at the side. My nostrils were fill with aroma making me taste the food before actually eating.

My wilks were soft and sumptuous. Deluded about my cooking abilities, I tried figuring what ingredients were used to create this symphony making the taste buds sing ecstatically! Syd came; “Everything good?” He always personally enquires as to customer’s satisfaction. “Mesmerizingly remarkable!” I smiled. Dwight simply said, “Perfect!”.

We eat with gusto drifting into discussions on reparations, history and philosophy. Oleander, a house of light jazz and very attentive yet un-intruding staff, is discourse friendly.

“Gentlemen; it’s nice to have you.” It was Michelle. We were delighted to have her attention and she engaged us momentarily. She explained that their mission is offering wonderful food from a varied menu, making for the best possible dining experience. She assured us that Syd is constantly taking being a chef to a new level, with practically every dish.

After two hours I bid goodbye, and left marvelling at Syd’s great genius of marrying the science/art of cooking with artistic display making something where you not only see, but also feel and taste elegance. And, he is obsessed with customers’ satisfaction confessing to me that if for whatever reason someone left seeming less than totally satisfied, he worries all night why?

At Oleander you will not only enjoy the creation of the skills of an expert; but you will taste the imagination of a genius! His name: Syd Murphy!