Heading the entire system of culinary operations for both the Rainforest Lodge at Sleeping Giant’s Grove House and The Lodge at Jaguar Reef’s Paddle House, Chef Rahim has quickly become one of the biggest names to follow in modern Belizean cuisine. But when it comes to knowing the man himself, myth and legend don’t do much for it. As ever, it is the journey that tells us the most important things.
As it goes for most success stories (or at least the more interesting ones), Chef Rahim blooms of humble beginnings—more certain that he never quite pursued the art of cookery as much as he fell into it.
Hailing from the small town of San Ignacio, Chef Rahim’s passion and inherent talent for cooking began at home. It is here, growing up in a big family, that he learned the roles and duties we assume as part of a family unit, and that from which he would come to make a career was fostered. Somewhere between milking cows and painstakingly molding cheese into moderately rectangular shapes, this is where he first found himself exposed not only to the idea of cooking, but also the art of creation—the making of something where before there was nothing at all.
Even as he grew old enough to forge a unique way through life, Rahim never strayed too far from his destined path. Debuting in the culinary world as a dishwasher for Greedy’s Pizzeria of San Ignacio, he went on to work his way up through the ranks, all the way up to line-cook, over the course of several years. Through this experience, Chef Rahim mastered the art of North American cuisine—pizzas, burgers, bread sticks, and other classic delicacies not native to Belize.
But for all that he had learned, he could not find passion in his work. Following a recipe is not always an easy feat, but even then, it was not the kind of challenge he was looking for.
And then, Hopkins.
A Garifuna fishing village located in the Stann Creek district, Hopkins is a plentiful fountain of culture, history, and a distinctiveness that leaves no room for repetition. A definitive shift from that of landlocked Cayo culture, Chef Rahim was thrown into a world unknown, presented suddenly with a sense freedom and uninhibited creative opportunity he was not entirely sure what to do with.
Though the things Hopkins had to offer—from resources to technique—were entirely different from everything Rahim had come to know, he welcomed and collected every bit of wisdom and knowledge imparted to him with relentless avidity. All of this would go on to culminate in this: his own origins blended with the Garifuna-infused influences around him. Fusions, blends, and things that had never before graced the pages of a menu now characterized much of his food. Chef Rahim stepped into this new style and unprecedented love for the food he put forward and did so with grace.
The restaurants under The Belize Collection have since incorporated Chef Rahim’s innovation and creativity, soaking up his vision and embracing the idea that it is the most overlooked ingredients that carry the most potential within them. The Paddle House has defined itself as a celebration of Garifuna cuisine, and inspired Chef Rahim to take the risks necessary of him to so too evolve the Grove House into a celebration of Caribbean cuisine at large—both now participating in the environmentally conscious and nutritionally beneficial farm-to-table movement. Now renowned across the country, these restaurants have been praised for this ability to transform and adapt, creating dramatic, gourmet cuisine through local (and often unexpected) means.
According to Chef Rahim, much of this ability to create meals that interest and delight can be attributed to his team. None of either restaurant’s standing could be achieved, it seems, without the consistency of a team that shares common intention, love of food, and a keen, deep-seated understanding of where they are and where they want to go.
As for where exactly that abstract future leads, it is not exactly unclear.
Chef Rahim—who has always believed that the best way to honor the dishes of our ancestors is not to recreate them exactly as they once were, but rather to evolve them just as we have evolved as descendants and carriers of our predecessors’ former society—remains committed to Belizean culture. Passionate as ever about staying organic, natural and utilizing local resources, the main goal at present is the elevation of our food, emphasizing the beauty and taste of local Belizean cuisines.
Part of that, says Rahim, is about educating the younger generation, and allowing them the opportunity to both explore their own visions and artistry through food, and challenge themselves to wander far beyond the confines of their own comfort zones. Because really, no art form can truly be complete without a sense of individuality. Chef Rahim, who did not always have that, knows better than most, that the same goes for cooking.
Beyond the Paddle House and the Grove House, this is how Chef Rahim aspires to be remembered: a great sieve, passing down information to the ones who will go on to inherit this legacy. To get Belizean food to that level of fame and notoriety—on par with Mexican, Chinese, Italian, or any other cuisine from which you can sample and think immediately I know where this is from—will not be a one-man task. But with great leaders like Chef Rahim to guide the way, it will also not be entirely impossible.