SUSSEGADO is a way of life in the western Indian state of Goa - laidback but not lazy, and focused on a good, healthy lifestyle.
“Life is not only about work, but about family, festivals and feasts,” says Christopher Braganza, the owner of Spice Genie food truck, and newly crowned winner of RTÉ’s Battle Of The Food Trucks.
Christopher, 37, moved to Ireland in 2012 where his older brother was settled and working as a nurse in Cork. Midleton is home and base for his thriving food truck business.
“Goa is my home, and whatever I am is because of Goa,” he says. “It makes you really appreciate life and hard work because nothing comes easy.”
There are multiple passions in Christopher’s life: family, food, and football. He romped home to victory in Battle Of The Food Trucks, but is also a trained pastry chef working in kitchens since the age of 21, and completed a degree in Hotel Management, while his first love is football refereeing.
“I come from a family of nurses - my brother, two sisters and my mum - but I was always into soccer, that’s my first love. You cannot have soccer as a career in India, you need to have a job to progress, so that’s what made me leave football, and start refereeing, in 2003 in Goa.
“It’s a dream I always had, refereeing; cooking is a dream I never had and it’s becoming a passion now. I am still a referee with the League of Ireland, and I’ll keep going!
“Cooking took off when I was young. Back home, it was the only way I could make my mum happy! If ever I had an argument with my mum, the easiest way to make her happy was to cook in the kitchen and then we become friends again.
“My love grew for food; but I came to Ireland not for cooking, but for refereeing,” Christopher says.
His food career began by working as a pastry chef in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Goa, before moving onto cruise ships. “Yo progress my career and explore the world, I cannot be in one place for too long, so, like a ship, I keep moving,” he says.
Ireland has been home for a decade, yet Christopher has not stood still once. Within ten days of arriving, he began work at the five-star Castlemartyr Resort as a pastry chef. In 2014, he moved to the famous Cliff House Hotel working with chef Kwanghi Chan (the 2021 winner of Battle Of The Food Trucks) and training Masterchef contestants.
He returned to Castlemartyr to work under renowned Cork chef, Kevin Burke.
“I learned a lot from watching him. It’s a work ethic; he had a nice quote in the kitchen: ‘Can you do this better?’ This is Kevin’s ethos; but cooking style I taught myself. Anybody can teach you recipes, but timing and technique are two important things I taught myself. During the challenges in Battle Of The Food Trucks, timing was my friend.”
Christopher is a lifelong learner and crystal clear on want he wants for himself. He took a break from kitchens to attend Cork College of Commerce for a year to train up as a masseuse so his day job wouldn’t interfere with pursuing his refereeing career.
“The day you stop learning is the day you stop growing – that has always kept me going. In the kitchen, we are always commis; people call me chef, but I I’m still learning, every day. Knowledge is just a drop in the ocean, so I keep learning, keep progressing.”
Prior to the pandemic, Christopher set up his own massage therapy clinic in Midleton. Lockdown forced its closure and once again the task or rerouting the good ship Braganza recommenced.
“After the first lockdown, I had to do something. There were no jobs, so I joined Midleton market with just a gazebo. I cook everything in the market, I don’t transport anything. I get my meat from the butchers in the morning and cook it fresh in the market – that is my USP.
“It all started going good because people appreciate what you do. And they come back, so it’s a reward for your work.
“The plus point about my food is that I don’t need to advertise - when I cook in the market, the aromas bring people to me!
“People say my food smells really good, and I say yes, it’s the spices, or sometimes I joke and say it’s my perfume!”
The Irish weather is no match for any man, and soon Christopher realised he needed to improve on the gazebo.
“When it rains and is windy, it’s very hard to cook in the gazebo, so I had to make a decision and invest in a food truck with a kitchen.”
Christopher had some savings and his brother helped him out.
“He’s the elder brother and it’s his duty to help his younger brother – that’s what my parents say! We are very close; he calls me every day. He’s married with two kids and lives in Midleton, five minutes from my house.
“We trust each other a lot. He doesn’t always agree with my decisions, but I prove him wrong most of the time. I tell him, I will go and do it – I can be a rebel, I am from Cork!”
A stroke of luck meant Butlers of Belfast, who built Christopher’s food truck to his own design, delivered within two months of the order being placed, in March, 2021. It marked the start of a new journey for the Spice Genie.
Although from Goa, Christopher takes his inspiration from the many varied regional cuisines of India.
“My chicken tikka is from north India, masala dosa is from south India, the beef is from Goa. My dishes are simple, but I make them really good so my customers will come back to me. My philosophy is to keep the spices but take out the heat - don’t take out the flavour and soul of the dish; flavour is king!
“My youngest customer is 14 months and even he can eat the chicken, but if someone wants it extra spicy, I have chili oil or fresh chillies.”
Christopher enjoys the flexibility and freedom being his own boss brings him and views the food truck as an important part of that freedom.
“I love my business model because I take my food to the people and cook live in front of you. I can be flexible: if I have a match next week and nothing booked, I do the match; if I have a booking and I have given my word, I stick to it. If I want to take a holiday, I can!
“With a restaurant, you don’t see the people you’re cooking for, but here its simple, people come, you have a chat, connect with them, know the community, make nice food – everyone is happy!”
The opportunity to take part in Battle Of The Food Trucks came hot on the heels of Spice Genie’s new food truck. Christopher sailed through the application process to find himself competing against five other food trucks, chasing the winner’s title and a cash prize of €5,000.
“For me, the competition was really challenging. I look back and realise I was really stressed because I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know the challenges, what ingredients I could get, what mystery dish I would get, or the judges.”
With his experience as a pastry chef, Christopher was on safe ground for both rounds where dessert featured. One round was as though tailor made for him.
“I got a fruit from my childhood, a Custard Apple. I got so lucky; I had not seen it for 20 years! Custard Apple is a tropical fruit that grows in Goa, and we had a tree where I grew up. It’s not really a fruit to make a dessert from, but I made a nice Panna Cotta and a cookie. I nailed it and came out with a nice dessert.”
Contestants get a short amount of time to decide and plan their dishes; phones, Google, and YouTube are all strictly prohibited, testing the mettle and experience of each chef.
“You cannot go in with one trick. I cooked only one curry in all six rounds – my first round, where I made the Irish flag. Even in the final, I didn’t make curry because I wanted to exhibit my skills more than recipes.”
In the final round, the brief was to make three different dishes for 18 people in 90 minutes. Judges scrutinised if everything was cooked to perfection and on time, and how chefs interacted with customers.
“The judges are looking how you are interacting with the customers: it’s not about being robotic, serving someone and shouting next. I talked to them, asked what they’d like; provided an experience, make them feel good.
“My three dishes were Biriyani, the most technical dish in India, Masala Dosa, and my own take on a burger-stuffed paratha with cheese served with raita and a pickle made to my mother’s own Goan recipe. That was a hit!
“On the day, I just focused on what I was doing. I was confident in what I was doing, my skill, knowledge, and executing everything on time. I remembered the saying: enter like a cat and leave like a cheetah. Keep very calm and deliver.
“In the final, both judges asked if I was worried. I said no, I’m here to put up a good fight, winning or losing doesn’t matter.”
When Christopher’s name was read out by the judges, he was thrilled.
“I was very confident I had delivered my dishes well but it was up to the judges to decide. When they said my name, it was like a dream come true - I was representing Goa, India, and Cork! It was an honour for me!”
I ask if now, just maybe, cooking has edged ahead as Christopher’s number one passion?
“No, but I’m putting more energy into something where people celebrate me! Refereeing, the growth has been slow because you have to wait for your opportunity, and it is tough. For the moment, I will let people enjoy my cooking and then things will happen. But I will not quit refereeing because that is a dream I have had since childhood. God’s delays are not God’s denials, so I will wait for it, maybe He is saving the best for last!”
Christopher plans to reinvest the prize money in another food truck so even more people can enjoy Spice Genie’s award-winning food.
As well as serving his loyal following in Midleton, Kinsale and Wilton farmers’ markets weekly, Christopher is adding Kilkenny Mountain View farmer’s market to his portfolio with a trip to the town on the second Sunday of every month.
There are also plans afoot to make a return to his chef roots with the launch of a new, but complimentary, food business, Sweet Genie, making delicious desserts of all kinds.
“The food truck is freedom for me,” says Christopher, lavishing praise on the local food businesses who, he says, “have been a part of my success.
“O’Farrell butchers in Midleton are a traditional butchery, 100 years old. Eddie O’Farrell supplies me with beef and lamb. I owe him a lot, he helps me a lot, and he’s been like a godfather to me. I would never be where I am... Eddie and his family are very supportive of me.
“Also, Murphy’s Butchers in Midleton and East Ferry Farm – my food truck runs on these three businesses.”
And how will Christopher be celebrating his win?
“I’ll have a party and cook for my close friends, dishes I cooked for the competition. Time to celebrate!”
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