Raymond Mohan is the Executive Chef and co-owner of LoLo’s Seafood Shack, a critically acclaimed restaurant in Harlem, New York City.
I grew up in Guyana, South America, which is part of the Amazon rainforest. In Guyana, we mostly live on the coast, and your backyard is the rainforest. Every day growing up, my mom would go to the market, as we lived on a market street. All the fresh fish and produce would be at the market by eleven o’clock in the morning, and she would go buy stuff to make lunch and dinner, and usually a fruit snack. For years I would go with her every day and look at fish that were still breathing, plants that were picked fifteen minutes ago, with life still in them. I liked looking at the ingredients and smelling them and tasting them, eating them fresh when she cooked.
It was fun growing up in Guyana. We never knew anything about the outside world living in a small village. It was a good life. My mom used to sell pastries, sandwiches, mauby, ginger beer, pholourie, and baiganee at a roadside stand every Saturday. She would start shopping on Thursday and start preparing at two a.m. on Saturday morning. I would get up around that time and my dad would be lighting a fire on the wood-burning fire outside. As we cooked, there were chickens and turkeys and goats eating in the shed next to us. It was a fascinating place to be.
When I came to the United States and started culinary school, I combined flavors and ingredients together in ways I never even knew I could think of. I spent my first four years in the industry as an apprentice under renowned chefs: Wayne Nish at March Restaurant; Jean-Georges Vongerichten at Vong; David Burke at Park Avenue Café and Christian Delouvrier at Les Celebrities. Now, I’ve traveled to over fifty countries. The world is no longer a small place for me. I would not trade the experience I had growing up in Guyana, living in New York, and the process of starting a business here for anything in the world. I have no regrets, and I’m glad to be what I’m doing.