(Issue 2) Food Feature: An Interview with Rashida Holmes by India Witkin

A love letter to the Caribbean and a delicious addition to the Los Angeles Food Scene

Chef Rashida Holmes is not new to the Los Angeles food scene, but her authentic Carribean food very much is. She’s been cooking in a multitude of restaurants the past 12 years, most recently as Sous Chef at the Freehand Hotel, before as Executive Sous Chef at the acclaimed Silver Lake hotspot, Botanica. 

Now, Rashida has bigger dreams: to cook the food she grew up with. And that is where Bridgetown Roti comes in the picture. 

New York born, Philly raised and nationally from Barbados, Rashida strives to create the same flavor memory she had growing up for her Angelino community, packaged in an affordable and hearty patty with flavors that encompass the vivacity of the tropical islands.

Bridgetown is a love letter to her heritage and Bajan roots, giving her customers more than just a meal but an experience.  

There is a shortage of Caribbean food in L.A, specifically the food Holmes’ cooks,  which derives from Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago. The majority of restaurants you’ll find are

Jamacian and located in West L.A. 

Holmes is changing that by representing the cuisine in East L.A – the even more sprawling, urban side of the city populated by Mexican and South American food. 

Chef Holmes decided opening up a brick and mortar shop was not the smartest way to start out, so she began by operating a pop-up restaurant across L.A and catering events all on her own. When the pandemic hit, she was prepared. She was not forced to close down like her peers nor did she have to let go of any staff. On the contrary, she was doing better than before, as residents longed for home-cooked meals. When lockdown hit, she cooked and sold from her home in Boyle Heights, offering curbside pickups, only. Her new system gained traction, without the barriers of delivery apps and obnoxious fees.  The simplicity of ordering through her website and  Instagram felt like a breath of fresh air. She quickly forged a bond with her customers, providing affordable and accessible home cooked meals. As she learned the ropes of operating a business during COVID, she decided to separate work from home and is now cooking and doing pick ups from a commissary kitchen in the Art’s District in East L.A. 

She comically recounts her childhood obsession with Golden Krust and admits that was one of her inspirations for Bridgetown. The other comes from her Great Aunt Vie,  whose famous cod fish cakes are her first and most poignant food memory.  The dish derives from a classic English dish,introduced to the indigienous community when some of the islands became English colonies. The dish runs deep in her genetics and wholly encapsulates her feelings towards home. Because of her Golden Krust infatuation, perfecting her own crust was crucial and is a huge reason why she sells out so fast. It pairs effortlessly with her homemade pineapple jalapeno sauce that’s so good, you could drink it.

Her family doesn’t just serve as inspiration for her food, but they’re also her business partners and “silent investors,” while her wife, who works in an East La public elementary school is her “front of house,” managing her orders and finances. She says it’s “important to keep it in the family and keep it all Black everything.” Her cuisine and brand is truly an extension of her creativity, who she is and where she comes from. 

She centers each of her dishes around the melting pot of ingredients from the Carribean port, her staple dishes are an assortment of patties which tap into each corner of her Bajan roots. The standout and most popular is the oxtail and pepper patty. Her vegetarian offering is the curried yam with mango and coconut ($8/each). Her patties rotate weekly as she wants to introduce her customers to new culinary experiences each time they order from her. The roti, her namesake, is a wrap loaded with curried proteins and spiced meat falling off the bone. It’s also been a hit for Holmes who has put her own spin on the Bajan staple.  

Rashida can tell you the history of each dish. She’s very knowledgeable about the Carribean as well as the Carribean diaspora living in  the US. She said most have immigrated to Florida, New York and Toronto with very little coming out west. The need for flavorful patties, rotis, and cod fish cakes are echoed by her and her customers and most importantly serve to reconnect those parts of the diaspora to their lives in the States. In Trinidad and Barbados, Roti stands are as commonly widespread as Taco trucks in L.A, or Halal carts in New York.  When I first learned about Bridgetown Roti, I immediately thought it served Indian food, roti being the skinner sister of naan, but to my surprise learned about the deep historic connection between South India and the Caribbean dating back 150 years. After slavery was abolished throughout the Carribean in the late 19th century, explain Holmes, “Southern Indians shipped to the islands to work on sugar cane plantations introduced Paratha rotis to the region.Traditionally served with curry stews as a delicious vehicle for spicy sauce, by the 1940s the roti wrap was offered to the masses.”  To Holmes, Bajan, Trinidadian and Tobagonian food are “ a beautiful marriage of African cultures, South Indian and indigenous cultures,” because they were part of the larger British Empire as opposed to the other side of the carribean which was not. From the turmeric, curry powder (which is made up of a medley of indigenous spices), and chili found in every bite, it’s hard not to taste the resemblance and fall in love. 

As I spent a sunny Saturday with Rashida, I saw her interact with her customers, some dear friends, other’s hardcore fans. I witnessed a customer from Toronto arrive excitedly to pick up her patties, “you can’t find patties like this in L.A, they’re so damn good and I’m your biggest fan!” Then she asked for a selfie and Holmes’ blushfully obliged. As she giggled and walked away, Rashida said “this is her 4th time here.” 

It’s clear to me that Rashida Holmes understands the importance of sincerity, authentic healthy and local ingredients and has the unique ability to transform what’s on the plate into a medley of stories and memories. No matter where you grew up, or what your heritage is you can feel and taste the familiarity to the authentic ingredients found in your own family’s kitchen. It’s spicy, salty and filled with seafood that conjures memories of special family meals and visits to your homeland, wherever that may be. If Carribean food was never on your radar before, it’s time you give it a try, and if you’re a homesick Angelino or just curious about trying something new – I promise this will be your new found obsession. 

Bridgetown Roti: 672 S Santa Fe Ave, Arts District. Follow @bridgetown_roti on Instagram. Pick up’s on Saturday and Sundays only, 12-5pm, put your order in at https://www.bridgetownroti.com/ as early as Tuesday’s for pre-orders. Limit to 8 patties per order. $ Recommended dishes: cod fish cakes, and green curry shrimp and potato. 

India Witkin is a New York native, born to an Indian mother and a Dutch/Italian father. Her parents had a mutual love for the country so they decided to name her, India.

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