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Family food business looks 'Rosie'- Mum and daughter putting Caribbean grub on the map

Published:Thursday | February 24, 2011 | 12:00 AM
Family affair: Lee Sylvester (left) and mother Monica - Photos from The Voice.

Poppy Brady, Contributor

There's a pile of bright red Scotch bonnet chilli peppers sitting on the work surface of Monica Cudjoe's immaculate kitchen.

Few people would guess they are about to become one of the vital ingredients in her latest creation - fiery chilli fudge. Pepper is probably the last thing anyone would dream of adding to fudge, but it's a taste sensation that's getting a small family-run Caribbean food business a delicious reputation.

Tan Rosie Foods was launched last summer by mother-daughter duo Monica and Lee Sylvester from Monica's Birmingham home, and they are determined to put Caribbean food on the culinary map. We're not just talking rice and peas or curried goat - Tan Rosie boasts a growing range of sweet and savoury delights that is getting foodies talking across the United Kingdom and beyond, as much of the company's home-made delicacies are sold online.

Their products, carefully packaged and branded in the red, yellow and green of Monica's home country, Carriacou, next to the spice island of Grenada, are becoming a familiar sight at farmers' markets across the West Midlands in England.

The range varies from seven flavours of fudge, including Grenadian rum and raisin and zingy ginger, to cakes, jams, chutneys, jerk rub and savoury sauces, such as garlic and pepper, spicy mango and hot papaya, which serve as both condiments and marinades.

Remembering the past

In looking to the future, Monica and Lee have remembered their past in the name they have chosen for the business. Tan Rosie was Monica's grandmother, the name 'tan' is an affectionate name for 'aunt' in the Caribbean. Tan Rosie enjoyed a reputation for fine cooking and inspired her granddaughter, Monica, to cook as a child. The Tan Rosie idea took off when Monica, a full-time midwife for 20 years, decided to hang up her uniform.

"Just before I retired, I'd started making jams and chutneys from the produce of friends' allotments," explains Monica, from her Erdington home. "Then I sold quite a lot of home-made produce to raise money for the Princess Royal Hospital in Carriacou. When I finished working, I wanted to do something different, so this is how it all started. I'm always coming up with new recipe ideas." Monica and Lee are a formidable business duo, as Lee has worked for more than 12 years as a sportswear designer for blue chip companies such as Puma and Umbro in Milan, Germany and Manchester. She has a shrewd eye for marketing.

"Mum tends to be the one who creates the food and I handle the business side," says Lee, 35, who is also a graphic designer. "I wanted to tie in our Caribbean roots to the branding, so we drew on the colours of the Grenadian flag and the traditional emblem of the nutmeg."

When any member of the family makes a journey back to the Caribbean, they have strict instructions to bring back plenty of nutmeg, cloves and cinnamon sticks to keep Monica cooking. At the moment, Monica and Lee are busy covering farmers' markets such as New Street in Birmingham City Centre, Moseley, Harborne, Sutton and Solihull, but they also hope to market their goods at festivals and do more wholesale work while also expanding the online business.

"There's a real gap in the market as far as Caribbean food is concerned," says Lee. "It seems to be the only food that does not have pride of place in this country. Indian food is part of the British menu now, so why not Caribbean food? We intend to change that."