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Exclusive: Emmer & Rye team opening Caribbean restaurant inspired by chef's native Guyana

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
Canje, the Caribbean restaurant from the team behind Emmer & Rye, will serve dishes like plantain chips, seared snapper over coconut broth and curry chicken.

Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph left Guyana for the United States when he graduated high school. Almost 25 years later, he is turning back to his home country for inspiration as he and his partners in the Emmer & Rye Hospitali Group prepare to open Caribbean-inspired restaurant Canje this fall at 1914 E. Sixth St. in East Austin. 

The new project, named after the national bird of the small South American coastal country, will give Bristol-Joseph the first opportunity of his culinary career to explore the flavors of his home, a country rich with influences from Africa, India, Europe and East Asia. 

The chef, who last year was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs, knows that many Austin diners likely have limited knowledge of his home country, and he is excited to share Guyana’s array of flavors through dishes like jerk chicken, spiced beef patties, roti, ceviche and pepper pot. 

“The beauty of the Caribbean is all of these influences. It's a beautiful blend. And I want to make sure the food represents that because I think we need it now more than ever,” Bristol-Joseph told the American-Statesman.

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While the menu will express the traditions and history of Guyana, the chef doesn’t intend for the experience at Canje to be the didactic one you might have at his group’s Emmer & Rye or Hestia. Yes, the staff will have strong knowledge about the cuisine’s roots, but the dining experience will provide a sensation that is independent of concern for ingredient provenance and culinary education. 

“It’s an environment that gives you the energy and the vibe to realize that we are all here together in the same space. Because that’s what Guyana is — it’s a cook-up of all of these different cultures,” Bristol-Joseph said. “The goal is to put these dishes in front of you and you not to have realized these dishes are Caribbean. If you are eager enough to know, you are going to find out.”

Bristol-Joseph acknowledges the sensitivities inherent in talking about cultural cuisines, and says he tries to ignore stricture in order to present his interpretation of the food of his home country, using tradition as inspiration. 

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“My connection is more emotional," chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph says of his relationship to the food of his native Guyana. "Certain dishes get me excited and give me a spark."

“I am a strong believer in expression. I think the true expression of a chef is when he can showcase his journey through his food and talk about it,” the celebrated pastry chef said, teasing his blend of personal history and professional experience by discussing a Canje dish of roti ice cream with coconut caramel and guava jam. 

The chef and his team will travel to Guyana in the months ahead to tour the villages and taste the cuisine that inspired his long-gestating project. 

“I think it’s important for them to see where I’m coming from and where we’re gonna go,” Bristol-Joseph said. “We have to start with where I’m from.”

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