You can hardly meet a more colourful character than Carelin Maclaren, a cook who has been exciting people’s palates for more than 50 years.
At 79, Maclaren, who has spent her life making her mark on Cayman’s food scene, is still offering patrons an unforgettable experience in native dining.
For anyone in Bodden Town looking to indulge in some good ‘ole time’ cooking, Maclaren’s Seaside Restaurant along Bodden Town Road is often the place to go.
Maclaren not only cooks, she also loves to sing, dance and chat, and her spare moments are spent socialising with family and friends, when she is not catering local events throughout Grand Cayman.
“Carelin makes the best steam rice on the whole island,” said Pedro Watler, a frequent customer to her restaurant. “Her crab, turtle and conch dishes are good, too,” he added.
However, that was not always the case, Maclaren said.
“I was not a very good cook, but I always wanted to become a chef,” she said, explaining she learned by watching others and reading cookbooks.
“My mother was a good cook in the home and I used to watch her prepare the food, especially when she was making her delicious fish rundown. My love for cooking and preparing local dishes started from there,” she said.
“I prepare fish rundown the same way she did, with lots of coconut milk, fish, dumplings, cassava, yam, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, bottlers, seasonings and lots of love.”
“I can cook but I can’t bake,” Maclaren added with a laugh. She claims her kids do all the baking in the home.
Her day at the restaurant starts at 8am and after a full day of cooking, serving and selling, she makes her way home to cook for the family.
Maclaren worked at several restaurants around Cayman before starting her own business. She cooked at Almond Tree Restaurant, once famous for its homemade biscuits and the best ‘dish of tea’ of the island; at Pedro Castle with the late Hartwell Wood; Cracked Conch in West Bay; Over the Edge in North Side; Country and Western on Crewe Road; and the Lighthouse Club in Breakers.
In later years, Maclaren moved to California with her husband Cam and did some cooking there. When she returned to Cayman, she worked at Foster’s Food Fair deli as a cook. Five years later, she started her own business in the Seaview building.
Because of her food, Maclaren said travel review website Trip Advisor rated her cuisine tops two years running, in 2014 and 2015.
Maclaren was born in Breakers, in a home across from the Lighthouse Club, on 1 Nov. 1940, to parents Adina and Waldo Webster, who had 13 children.
Growing up, Maclaren said, Breakers was a nice place. Everyone worked together and shared what they had. Her father slaughtered cows at Christmas time and everyone got a piece of fresh beef, along with ‘breadkind’. People fished a lot, she said.
She attended school in a little building across from the Lighthouse restaurant and her teachers at the time included the late Doris Levy and Haig Bodden.
Maclaren finished school at age 16. Her first job was cooking and cleaning house for Eileen Jackson in Spotts.
In later years, she moved to Pedro Castle restaurant, working for the late Hartwell Wood.
“Things were hard those days for everyone,” she said. “Eva Forbes gave me a piece of cloth and I made my first dress from it. I went to school with bare feet and skipped along the hot road to go home for lunch. After school, the chores were done before we retired for bed.”
Love of cooking
Her many years behind the stove have not diminished her joy for her craft. Maclaren “loves to cook everything”, she said, adding, “Cooking gives me inspiration. When I cook, I cook with love. It’s what makes my food taste so good, and people love my food.”
Scotch bonnet pepper
Season fish with black pepper salt, onion, scotch bonnet and season pepper. Set aside. Mix flour and cornmeal with a pinch of salt and water, combine to make small dumplings, set aside.
Place other ingredients in a large pot and cover with coconut milk. Place season fish on top, cover and let simmer until produce is cooked.
Add dumplings to pot 12 minutes before removing from stove.