Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on April 2010

Petra Laptiste might seem like an unlikely ambassador of island culture. The Montreal native studied molecular biology at school and has worked jobs ranging from English teacher to corporate trainer to jewelry importer. She now celebrates her Caribbean heritage via lively cooking classes, food tours and a host of other projects.

How did you get involved in promoting the culture and cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago?
I’m a Trinidad and Tobago national by descent (my father was born there), and I’ve been immersed in the music, food and culture from birth. I felt there was a strong need for people in Japan to know more about the rest of the Caribbean. In TT, you get two for one: Trinidad is the larger, more urban and cosmopolitan island and Tobago is smaller, quainter beach-lover’s paradise.

What kind of Trinidad and Tobago-related events are you involved with?
I’ve been teaching TT cooking since last year, and I’m in the process of working more closely with the TT tourism board to bring more events to Japan. I am also organizing a trip to the Trinidad and Tobago Carnival next March. The event is the largest of the Caribbean-style Carnivals, with a history that goes back to when slaves would dress up to mimick the fashions of their plantation owners. The modern Carnival is a mix of old-time storytelling and glittery, skimpy costumes! It precedes Lent and takes place at the same time as Rio’s Carnival and New Orleans’ Mardi Gras. I’m also organizing a TT Food Tour from September 18-26 to experience authentic TT Food and culture. Space is limited, so anyone who is interested should sign up right away

Tell us about your cooking lessons.
They give participants an opportunity to learn healthy, delicious home-style TT cooking in an intimate atmosphere. Guests can prepare the dishes by themselves under my supervision. Some examples are Trinidad stew chicken, TT curry chicken, callaloo, pholourie and macaroni pie. At the moment, I run two to four classes per month.

The lessons seem to be about more than just food…
Hahaha!! Yeah, while the food is cooking/baking, the guests are also given Soca dance lessons. Soca is one of the official music genres of the TT Carnival, the others being Calypso, Chutney and Steel Pan. And you can’t have a Carnival atmosphere without rum punch!

What’s something that people probably don’t realize about the cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago?
That it is very diverse. TT is a small country that is mixed with people of West African, East Indian, Chinese, European and Middle Eastern backgrounds, via slavery and migration. People eat fish, beef, goat, iguana and of course fresh fruits and vegetables. Spices and deep flavors are extremely important in the cuisine. We’ll bake it, grill it, fry it, curry it… anything!

What are some of your favorite things to do in Tokyo?
I like cooking for friends at my place in Kanamecho and shopping for fresh produce at the mom and pop grocers along Ebisu Dori. There’s a fabulous tiny import shop (can’t remember the name!) just next to Book Off on Kanamecho Dori, near exit 3 of Kanamecho station. They sell reasonably priced snacks, fresh baked desserts and condiments. I also enjoy trying authentic Chinese restaurants in Ikebukuro.

Petra Laptiste’s upcoming cooking lessons take place on Apr 29 and May 9, 16 and 23. Venue: B:CONTE Ariake Hotel (see blog for map). Hours: 4-7pm. Cost: ¥4,500 per person. Tel: 090-1450-8405. Email tokyo.trinbago@gmail.com. http://tokyotrinbago.blogspot.com