Chef Spotlight: An Interview with Chef Fernando Franco

Executive Chef Fernando Franco’s name may not be as globally recognizable as that of restaurant tycoon Wolfgang Puck or television personalities Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsey but, to individuals within dining distance of Hyatt Regency Trinidad, his star power shines just as bright.  Anyone who has been been fortunate enough to taste his culinary creations –in the hotel’s full-service restaurant, its lobby lounge, sushi bar, or the rooftop bar and grill – enthusiastically sings his praises in between indulgent bites.


Born in Argentina, a country of diverse culinary influences, it almost seemed predestined that he would eventually make a seamless transition into life in the equally eclectic Trinidad. For the past eight years, Chef Franco has been using his love for food and his dedication to his craft to produce memorable and tasty meals in downtown Port-of-Spain.

In the following interview, Chef Franco discusses his early inspirations, his global experience, and his intense passion for the culinary arts.

How old were you when you knew you wanted to be a chef and why did you decide on this career path?

I was 21 years old. I had just finished high school and I was still undecided about my future so I was doing odd jobs related to cooking to earn pocket money. Fortunately for me, I landed a job at Las Leñas, one of the largest Andean ski resorts in Argentina and there I had the privilege to work with many of the best chefs in my country. I enjoyed it so much that the experience set me on the path I am still on today.

What were your biggest food influences while growing up?

My biggest influence was my father.  We spent a lot of time cooking and bonding over food when I was growing up. But the truth is, I also grew up in a country where eating and drinking are deeply-ingrained pillars of our culture.  Unlike the fast-food type trend that has caught on in many places today, back in Argentina we take our time in the preparation and enjoyment of our meals. It was routine to go to a butcher to buy meat and then visit separate markets for poultry, fish and produce. Plus, mealtimes were unrushed affairs when friends and family got together to catch up on each other’s lives.

You have an illustrious 27 year work history and because if it you’ve lived in many different countries.  How have your experiences in Spain, Portugal, Italy, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, Hawaii and now Trinidad impacted your love and appreciation for food?

My love for food began before I ever set foot on a plane but working in several countries and traveling to others gave me the opportunity to learn about many different types of cuisines. As my knowledge grew, so did my understanding and appreciation of the international language of food. Working with other chefs who also shared my passion certainly added to the experience.

What attracted you to Trinidad and Tobago?

Before I moved here, I had never been to the Caribbean before so I was very thorough in my research prior to deciding to relocate.  I was attracted to Trinidad and Tobago because of its many festivals, and its rich diversity and culture excited me.  The local foods also seemed like a culinary adventure that would only expand my repertoire.

Trinidad is home to innumerable culinary influences that melt together in a multicultural pot of scents, tastes, spices and aromas. How does that inspire you to create new recipes?

The variety of local spices and produce, as well as the aroma from the Indian influence in the dishes and the way in which they are marinated with different meats all provide great inspiration for me. Fusing those elements with Hyatt’s food philosophy creates memorable dishes and flavors and tasty seasonal treats.

What are your best kitchen moments?

The moments associated with the opening of the meal period. The adrenaline rush I get from preparing multiple dishes side-by-side while adhering to the finest standards for all of them is unparalleled. It gives me true purpose in the kitchen.

What is your biggest worry?

That a guest many not be totally satisfied with my dishes. I am not successful if the diner is not pleased with what we have prepared.  I enjoy meeting the hotel guests and getting their feedback as it allows me to understand their likes and dislikes. Those open exchanges give me the impetus to be even more creative with my menus.

Are there any emerging trends on the food scene you’d like to tell us about? What types of menu inclusions are travelers requesting more of?

I think travelers are aiming to eat healthier foods and they increasingly expect their meals to be prepared by utilizing only the freshest ingredients. Here at Hyatt Regency Trinidad, we receive a lot of vegetarian and vegan requests from our guests and we have included a separate section on our menus for these options. Travelers also look forward to tasting the new spices and flavors used but they are not limited to any particular fruit or product. As food and beverage is also critical to the success of international meetings and we do so many of them here, I also ensure our menus reflect cultural or religious dietary needs and I inject local elements wherever possible.

Final question: do you have a favorite cook book? If so, what is it?

When I was younger, my favorite cook book was “La Cocina del Mercado” by Paul Bocuse. He is a famous French chef who is known for the high quality of his restaurants and his innovative approaches to cuisine.  After I left the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), I added “The New Professional Chef” to my must-have list. I think any aspiring chef should have both.

~ Contributed by Lesley-Ann Thompson of Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications

Celebrating the good things in life at Destination Trinidad and Tobago

On Saturday July 19, Go Eat Give hosted its monthly Destination Dinner at Tassa Roti in Alpharetta, showcasing the culture and cuisine of Trinidad and Tobago. This event is a part of Go Eat Give’s monthly programming that aims to promote cross cultural understanding between different communities in the Atlanta area.

The menu for the evening consisted of 18 authentic Trinidadian dishes prepared by Caribbean restaurant Tassa. Trinidad native Radhika (Ria) Edoo, a fourth generation restauranteur Tassa opened the first location in 2006. For appetizers, we tried traditional jerk chicken wings, pholourie (fried batter) served with mango chutney, and doubles (a sandwich made of two pieces of flat bread and stuffed with chick peas) with tamarind sauce.

trinidad doubles

Fourteen dishes were laid out buffet style for main course, allowing those in attendance to eat to their heart’s content. These included coconut fish, spicy coconut jerk pasta, a brown stew made with boneless pork, jerk chicken, Bodi (a bean favored in Trinidad), jerk chicken (Trinidad style, not Jamaican), fried plantains, lentils, Chow Mein, oil down ( a stew made from breadfruit, salted meat, coconut milk, and spices), and Roti (shredded flatbread). In addition, two curry dishes were served – curry potatoes and chickpeas as well as boneless chicken curry, showcasing the large Indian influence found in Trinidad culture. The country’s most popular dish, callaloo (creamed spinach) was also served, as well as, rice and peas to go with the many stew and curry dishes. For dessert, we enjoyed a moist pineapple cake, paired with complimentary Champagne.

goeatgive destination Trinidad

As party goers arrived at the event, they were greeted by the sounds of steel pan player Sheldon Webster. The steel pan is a drum made out of 50 gallon oil drums that is popular throughout the Caribbean, although nowhere more so than in its native country of Trinidad.

trinidad steel drums

The music of Trinidad was further showcased by DJ Mackie, who took attendees on a journey through the history of Trinidadian music. Some of the Trinidadian music played consisted of traditional calypso and soca music, both of which are native to Trinidad. Once they were finished eating, event attendees danced to the lively music, creating an atmosphere of festivity that is typical of life in Trinidad.

Guests enjoyed the comedic commentary of Nigel Fabien, a stand up comedian who performs here in Atlanta, as well as in his native Trinidad. Fabien entertained the guests with a series of jokes, showcasing the lively humor of Trinidad’s people.

Nigel Fabien

Keynote speaker and former president of the Trinidad and Tobago Association of Georgia, Allan Notingham gave an informative speech on the history of Trinidadian cuisine. He spoke of the many cultural influences that make up Trinidadian cuisine, such as Indian, Asian, and African, and asserted that Trinidad culture is proof that different races can come together in peace. He also emphasized the importance of Roti, which is cooked on an iron flat plate, and doubles, which he called the fast food of Trinidad. According to Notingham, these are the two most important dishes in Trinidadian cuisine.

To further showcase Trinidad culture, costume designer Charles Baker displayed his designs used for the Carnival celebration. Carnival is a street festival that takes place every year immediately before Lent, and typically consists of a parade, elaborate costumes, and lots of music. Baker’s designs were grand, covered with glitter and feathers in all different colors. He stated that these costumes are an art form, a way for the person wearing them to express themselves and free their spirit, an assessment that I agree with when looking at the elaborate, multicolored designs.

trinidad carnival costumes

Destination Trinidad was by far the liveliest and most fun Go Eat Give event that I have ever attended. There was dancing, comedy, and amazing food. The native Trinidadians at the event were all humorous, upbeat, and good-natured. All of this combined to create an impression of a culture, that to me seems focused on celebrating the good things in life. That is definitely a country I would love to visit, and I imagine everyone at the event left feeling the same.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

8 Celebrities You Didn’t Know Were of Trinidadian Descent

Did you know all these famous people were from the islands of Trinidad and Tobago?

1. Alfonso Ribeiro


You probably know him as the quirky character Carlton from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but did you know that both of his parents hail from Trinidad and Tobago? His grandfather is even the late famous calypso singer and composer Rafael de Leon, aka Roaring Lion.

2. Nicki Minaj

Nicki-Minaj-Singer-Wallpaper-e1383450800358Born Onika Manaj, this top rapper is one of the few on this list who was actually born in Trinidad, Saint James to be specific. She has used her career to show love to Trinidad, performing there, featuring the island in her MTV special, “My Time Now,” and even filming her most recent video there, “Pound the Alarm.”

3. Nia LongNia-Long-1

The actress has stated many times that her mother is from the island of Trinidad, and recently was spotted on the island snapping photos in Port-of-Spain and visiting extended family. As she told The Trinidad Express, “We enjoyed lots of real coconut ice cream every evening from St James, and of course I love curry, so I had rotis every day!”

4. Mike Bibby

mike bibby

This point guard for the New York Knicks was born to an African American father and a mother from Trinidad and Tobago.

5. Romany Malco

romany malco

This actor caught the public’s attention in movies such as “The 40 Yeard Old Virgin” and “Think Like a Man,” but a majority of people probably don’t realize this Brooklyn native was born to two Trinidadian parents.

6. Lorraine Toussaint

lorraine toussaint

Born in Trinidad, this actress moved to New York with her family at the age of 10. Since coming to America, she has made a name for herself as an actress, studying drama at The Juliard School and landing roles in popular T.V. shows such as “Saving Grace,” “The Young and the Restless,” and “Orange is the New Black.”

7. Jackee Harry  


She has been making a name for herself since her first T.V. role on the show “Another World” in the early 80s. While her father is African American, her mother comes straight from Trinidad.

8. Heather Headley


This singer and Tony-award winning actress was born and raised in Trinidad, where she lived until she moved to Indiana as a teen. Before then, she was said to be inspired by the calypso and soca music of her land. “Trinidad is where I learned to sing and to appreciate music. One of the beautiful things about home is that there’s so much music.” She has returned to Trinidad to perform, and is considered a huge star in Trinidad.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.

On July 19, Go Eat Give is hosting Destination Trinidad at Tassa Roti Shop in metro Atlanta, where the public can witness live music, speakers and an authentic Trinidad buffet.

Trinidad: Small but Diverse

The country of Trinidad, sometimes called the “rainbow island,” has a reputation of incredible diversity in regards to its music, food, and population. Located just eleven kilometers off the coast of Venezuela, Trinidad has a total population of 1.3 million. The makeup of its people ranges from African and East Indian, to European, and a variety of overlap of all of these. The main religion of the island is Roman Catholic, with Protestantism, Islam, and Hinduism also practiced.

Location of Trinidad
Location of Trinidad


The original name for the island was “Iëre,” or Land of the Humming Bird, but Christopher Columbus changed it upon his arrival in 1498 to “La Isla de la Trinidad,” or The Island of the Holy Trinity. Today, Trinidad is a thriving Caribbean nation that bases much of its economy on gas-based export.

Although native Amerindians originally populated the island, Spanish, British, and French forces came to colonize it. They shipped the native Amerindians off to other colonies in the Caribbean to work and over time imported mass amounts of African slaves to labor on sugar plantations. After the British abolished slavery, indentured laborers were imported from India, China, and the Middle East. In 1889, England joined Trinidad to the nearby Tobago as an administrative ward, with which it stayed connected even after its independence from England in 1962. Over time, the descendants of the many non-native groups came together and fused their cultures, creating a melting pot that is the status quo in Trinidad today.


All throughout the year, festivals take place that represent a variety of Trinidadian culture. Many of these festivals celebrate religious holidays, while others celebrate the traditions, customs, and music of Trinidad. The more popular religious festivals include Santa Rosa Festival, Christmas, Easter, Divali, and the Muslim celebration Eid Ul Fitr. There are multiple festivals that are based around the music of the Caribbean, such as Carnivale, J’ouvert and the national steel pan competition Panorama. In addition, the people of Trinidad also celebrate festivals pertaining to their history and customs, such as Emancipation Day and Arrival Day. No matter what time of year, there is sure to be a celebration happening in the streets of Trinidad.

Diwali in Trinidad
Diwali in Trinidad


The food of Trinidad is just as diverse as its population. Its history of colonization and labor importation led to a cuisine that contains a vast array of influences, including East Indian, Spanish, African, Chinese, and Middle Eastern. The most well known is Creole, a cuisine developed from robust stews and one pot comfort foods brought to the island by African slaves. Signature Creole dishes include pelau (a spicy dish consisting of meat, rice, and pigeon peas), macaroni pie (baked macaroni and cheese), and callaloo (a stew made with leaf vegetable, coconut milk, crab, chili pepper, lobster and many more). Another popular form of cuisine is street food, such as barbecue and jerk meats, homemade ice cream and coconut water.

Famous doubles with chickpeas
Famous doubles with chickpeas


Like much of the Caribbean, Trinidad has a lively music scene. Many varieties of music in Trinidad are a result of its historical influences, such as African and Indian based folk and classical forms. However, the mixing of cultures has led to the development of several indigenous forms of music as well, including soca, rapso, parang, chutney, and other derivative and fusion styles. The steelpan drum , a chromatically pitched percussion instrument made from  55 gallon drums that formerly contained oil and similar substances, also originated on the island. Oftentimes, local communities fuse the steelpan with international classical and pop music. The music of Trinidad provides something for every taste, once again illustrating the diversity of the culture of Trinidad.

Trinidad can be characterized as a beautiful Caribbean nation with a population whose spirit is just as impressive. The people are friendly and upbeat, and filled with a pride so strong that they celebrate almost constantly. The music, food, and ethnicity of the small island combine to create a culture that gives anyone visiting a vast amount to experience. I know I would love to see firsthand the diversity of this small Caribbean nation. On July 19, Go Eat Give is hosting Destination Trinidad at Tassa Roti Shop in metro Atlanta, where the public can witness live music, speakers and an authentic Trinidad buffet. For more information about this event, click here.

~ By Allie Williams, a recent graduate of the University of Georgia. Allie explores her passion for food, travel, and learning about different cultures though her internship with Go Eat Give.