Words by Nneka Nurse
Photos by Ravi Lloyd
Let me get a La Bodega and two Turmeric Crust with Curry Chicken please! No, make that 2 La Bodega and 2 Turmeric Crust with the soca sauce!
This is not what your typical beef patty order at a Caribbean restaurant sounds like. But these aren’t your typical patties. The La Bodega is one of the artisanal patties created by Barbadian chef Samuel Branch, aka Mr. Cutters. In the less than two years since he first launched his stand at popular Brooklyn food market Smorgasburg, the self-proclaimed “Patty King” has created such a following that his patties now have their own station at Brooklyn’s local Whole Foods. We recently sat down for a meal with Sam, to chat about his rapid rise to patty fame, and to find out more about his plans for enhancing the profile of Caribbean snack cuisine.
When you first hear about a beef patty selling for $5 a pop, it sounds taboo—considering most people who regularly eat them know they can go to a local pizzeria or Caribbean bakery, and buy them for less than half that price. The difference with Mr. Cutters is that Sam creates his patties with grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and crusts made with all-natural ingredients like turmeric, paprika and shadonbeni, instead of the food coloring found in cheaper varieties.
Originally, Mr. Cutters staple was the cutter, a popular Bajan sandwich made on a fresh-baked salt roll with fried flying fish and eggs (and dressed with tomato, lettuce and optional pepper sauce). However, when the opportunity came up to have a space at Smorgasburg, one of the largest public food markets in New York City, he wanted to create a menu people are familiar with from the Caribbean, yet make it current with today’s food trends. According to Sam, his goal was not to copy the Jamaican patty, “but there was certain fundamentals I needed to know.” So he went to the Bronx and tasted patties from various restaurants, “all in an effort to be as close to authentic I can, without compromising the flavor.” From that goal, he birthed the “La Bodega”: a beef patty with cheese that pays homage to his youth in Flatbush buying patties from corner-store bodegas and pizzerias.
“People who want an authentic experience would not eat a patty with cheese, and they certainly won’t eat a patty with dipping sauce,” Sam admits, referring to the optional flavor enhancement offered at his stand. (Dipping sauce flavors include jerk and mango tamarind). However, he stayed true to beef patty tradition with the turmeric crust. Mr. Cutters also serves up curry chicken and veggie patties, the latter filled with seasonal veggies like curry corn in the summer and squash in the winter. Currently, the menu also features a vegan jerk shitake patty, with coconut rice, cauliflower and red lentils inside a calalloo crust. We tasted the traditional beef patty with turmeric crust, and the curry chicken patty with the mango tamarind dipping sauce. At first bite, when you look at the meat inside, the seasoning is bursting out of the flaky pastry, and the taste is well married, without overpowering flavors. If you want a little more kick, you can add the Bajan pepper sauce, which Sam likes to call “Caribbean Sriracha.” Patties aren’t the only option at his Smorgasburg stand, either: he also serves up Bajan-style fish cakes.
Mr. Cutters’ partnership with Whole Foods was, literally, an organic one, considering Sam’s culinary career actually started at the USA’s largest organic chain grocery store. He was already familiar with the culture of being whole, and selling the highest quality of natural and organic products. For Sam, the exposure is a major accomplishment for the Mr. Cutters brand. It’s also an opportunity to highlight how Caribbean cuisine has always been locally-sourced, long before “eating local” became a fashionable trend, and something that can be enjoyed equally by vegans and meat eaters alike.