Deborah De Labastide pours her genuine love for the Yuletide season into her popular ponche-de-crème blends, pastelles and black cake.
De Labastide’s self-branded Deb’s Exquisite Island Drinks line is a must-get for visitors at the annual Christmas upmarket at Lions Cultural Centre in Port of Spain.
Everyone who has been to the artisan fair will recall the bubbly self-taught chef dancing through the walkways with bottles of her chilled original, pumpkin, carrot and beetroot blends ready to pour into eager sample cups.
The Tacarigua-based grandmother’s Christmas menu also includes beef, chicken, pork and veggie pastelles and fruit cakes.
“I love the Christmas season. I enjoy hearing the parang music. The place just comes alive,” an animated De Labastide told the Express yesterday.
“Sometimes you might catch me dancing in the walkway with samples of the drinks which I keep very cold for serving. Usually anyone who tastes them usually leaves with a bottle; sometimes one in each flavour to enjoy and end up returning to purchase more in the following weeks preceding Christmas because what they thought they bought for closer to Christmas was opened and enjoyed long before,” she chirped.
So, what exactly makes her “ponche” so special? The 61-year-old mixologist says it’s her willingness to experiment and constantly search for the next big breakthrough to share with her customers. That approach has birthed her eggless line of ponche-de-crème, as well as a new scotch-based liquor blend she calls “copycat Baileys”.
“I think although there are many other endless variations of the traditional Christmas drinks now, those usually have flavoured extracts, but my preference has always been to use the best quality, all-natural fresh ingredients, so consumers feel less guilty to indulge and I am happy to give them this option. Not everyone enjoys the traditional drink with eggs,” she related.
“Most of my customers are returning customers and look forward to me being at the event to get their drinks. My customers aren’t just locals either, I have quite a few expats who make sure to get their drinks before they travel home for the holidays. There are also a few younger people that enjoy the drinks and some that come from Mayaro, Debe and even Tobago.”
A marriage of heart and brain
The kitchen has always been a place of wonder for De Labastide. As a child, she was often called upon to help with the cooking when her family entertained visitors. Those lucky enough to be invited to her home during Christmas time can attest to the sweetness of her hand and her elaborate spread of experimental drink concoctions.
On the insistence of family and friends, De Labastide decided to bottle and sell that unique experience, bringing full circle her love for serving and entertaining with her corporate sales training.
“I started my career in sales and marketing, so I know how to sell just about every and anything. I am used to hard work, and I was never really one to sit quiet and not try new things or look for creative ways to make extra money. Anyone that knows me would tell you that I always making something or selling something,” she laughed.
The pandemic-forced restrictions on physical movement and to business operations have affected the ambitious entrepreneur. With the state of emergency in T&T ended and the resulting lifting of the curfew she expects things to turn around for most small businesses.
“While my sales are not as high as they have been before the pandemic, I am still thankful that I can make some money and provide something that people actually want. There are many other cottage business owners that, for the first time bringing their goods or services to the market, aren’t that fortunate. The prices on all my ingredients have raised and I chose to absorb that cost and not pass it on to my clients this year. I’m still trying to help where and how I can,” she said.
Whatever the circumstances, expect De Labastide to be in the kitchen busy working on her next new culinary idea this Christmas.
“There is always something happening in my kitchen. I like trying new things, never with a recipe book, a YouTube video or a measuring cup. I just have to taste it or see it and I try it. I had no idea that it would be such a success and that years after I’d have so many customers waiting for me to get their Christmas drinks and well, of course, their pastelles,” she concluded.
Visit Deborah De Labastide’s Facebook page for more information.
Deb’s Rum Fruit Cake recipe
1 cups sugar
1/2 lb butter
3 cups flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 lb in each fruit minced: raisins, currents, sultana, prunes and cherries
1. Combine sugar and butter and mix till creamy and sugar has melted.
2. Add your other wet ingredients like eggs and essence. You should add some lime peel to take out the freshness.
3. Add your flour and baking powder.
4. Add in your soaked fruit and browning.
5. Preheat oven at 350 degrees and grease a six-inch pan
6. Pour mixture into pan and bake for 45mins.
7. Once cake is ready pour some rum or cherry brandy on the cake and let that soak in.
NOTE: Fruits must be minced and soaked in rum or cherry brandy before making the cake. Some do a couple days, but I prefer up to a year.