Building and Feeding a Community With Chef Castro

Building and Feeding
a Community With
Chef Castro

Chef Castro Boateng has a decorated resume and a passion for cooking that has taken him all over the world. Born in Ghana and raised in Canada, he got a real taste for the culinary life in notable Scottish kitchens before earning his stripes in iconic institutions like the Fairmont Southampton Princess in Bermuda, followed by the Rimrock Resort Hotel in Banff. It was during his time in the Caribbean, post-hurricane season, that the idea of team work really made an impression on him. As he and many of his chef colleagues came together to help rebuild the community, the one thing he never heard anyone say is “that’s not my job” – something that stuck with him and still informs his culinary philosophy today.

Since opening the doors to the 35 seat House of Boateng in Langford, B.C., the restaurant has won several awards and accolades, including an EnRoute nomination for Best New Restaurant and a YAM Magazine award for Chef of the Year in 2019. In between his busy schedule of cooking, catering and family, he took a few moments to talk with us about the importance of a good team, community building and what sustainability means to the Boateng family.

What inspired you to move to Langford? 

When we moved here in 2007, we really didn’t know much about Victoria or the Island, but the town has just embraced us over the years. I think what’s nice about this place is that anybody who is new to the area moves out here so there’s a lot of families and new faces. This was a key part of choosing this location. We wanted to do something special for the West Shore. We wanted to have a place where people from Victoria can drive out for the afternoon, not just go to Costco but do something a little different.

When did you know you wanted to be a chef? 

I wanted to be a cook before I got to Scotland. When I got there, it changed for me because all of the sudden I was in an environment of real professionals; the servers, the dishwashers, everyone there was taking their job really seriously. Seeing people spending time reading books, spending time travelling and going to different restaurants was really exciting. That’s when I realized that this is what I really want to do.

What does an average day look like? 

Chaotic.

I’m the kind of person who can’t have the typical 9 to 5. I’m always looking to change, always looking for new ideas, which is why we have catering, the cafe and our foraging tours. I’m also a father so I’m also trying to balance that too. In the mornings I’m running kids to school, I’m shopping  at the grocery store because I like to see my own food. There are a lot of stores that have exotic ingredients which you wouldn’t get from a supplier so it’s nice to pick this up ourselves. After that, I’m just trying to be here and spend time with the customers. I’ve managed to work my family life into my business life, but it also helps having a really solid team who helps manage the operation.

House of Boateng has been a huge success since opening. Did you know it was going to be as successful as it is? 

You plan things. You have high hopes that it’s going to be busy. I remember the night before we opened the doors was a bit scary because in my head I’m thinking what if we open the doors and nobody comes to see us. You’re thinking about all the things that could go wrong. I’ve worked in a lot of hotels and restaurants, I’ve opened restaurants, but never with my own money so there was definitely that added pressure. But still, I was very excited.

What’s the most challenging part of running your own restaurant? 

There have been lots of challenges with the style of food that we are serving. Our customers ask us very often to explain our cuisine and we’re still figuring it out. We’re trying not to put it in a box and trying do something that feels right. We’re always trying to break away from the norm. We want to keep people curious.

You’ve received a fair bit of media attention in the first 18 months. What are you most proud of with opening House of Boateng?

We are always impressed with how far people have come to eat our food. We built this to be a neighbourhood cafe but we have been very fortunate to have people come from all over. We have become a meeting place.  Here, we’ve seen cases where customers run into other customers they haven’t seen in 40 years. That’s pretty cool and makes you feel like you’re part of something, part of building a community.

Obviously we are super pleased with the awards and mentions but what makes me most proud is the dedication of my staff. We have come together as a great team and are constantly trying to do things differently. We are not African, or Caribbean, or local, we are just this living breathing thing. When you walk in and see our wall covered in clocks in different time zones you get this appreciation for the fact that we all come from so many different backgrounds and places.

What’s next for you? 

We would like to continue to embrace this place. You never say never to the idea of expanding but right now we’re more focused on growing what’s here. The word sustainable means different things to different people and for us it’s more than food, it’s also a question of our staff, and do we have a business that we can all rely on for the long term. One day we may expand but as of right now it’s just about enjoying what this place is doing and making it the best it can be.

Do you have any advice for aspiring restauranteurs or chefs? 

Put the work in. I say to my staff all the awards don’t just happen. These awards happened 12 years ago when we first opened the business as a catering operation. There are so many people that have supported the business slowly building. So, put the work in, believe in what you want to do, and surround yourself with good people with the same mindset. If you have people who are willing to do the small things you’ll go a long way.