Tarell Mcintosh, or “Chef Tee”, has achieved more than most in his 26-years.

Having tried his hand in Michelin star restaurants, school teaching and fashion marketing, his latest venture has taken him to the heart of Lambeth, in a pop-up restaurant catering to the needs of the community.

A newcomer to Wandsworth Road, ‘Sugar Cane’ can be spotted by its bright, hand-painted signs, which welcome passers-by into the friendly Caribbean restaurant inside.

“Caribbean cuisine is unique – you either get it right or you get it wrong. It takes a lot for people to come in here as a new company, when it’s not burgers or pizzas,” said Chef Tee.

But serving up hearty portions of down-to-earth food, and the option to BYOB, Sugar Cane is sure to become a neighbourhood favourite.

For first-timers Chef Tee recommends keeping it simple.

“Akee and saltfish. That’s actually the national dish of the Caribbean, even though everyone thinks its jerk chicken. Western consumers usually don’t know what it is.

"Historically, it’s to do with slavery, as on long journeys people would salt cod, and akee is a plant pod that grows on trees. It’s like scrambled egg but with a much lighter to texture.

“Whenever I give people a sample, they end up ordering a whole dish. So that’s what my recommendation would be. And my cakes, the Disaronno bread pudding and rum and banana cake seem to send people over the edge!”

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You have to be “ah versatile” in Di kitchen I was once taught. 3 DELICIOUS DISHES, on the go at once! Mi ackee n Saltfish, BONELESS curried chicken and AUTHENTIC curried goat 👉🏾👉🏾👉🏾👉🏾👉🏾🌴 #chef #instagram #instafood #soulfood #swlondon #sugarcaneldn #yoursugarcane #food #caribbeanfood #oxtail #delicious #brixton #brixtonfood #balham #balhamfood #clapham #claphamfood #claphamfoodie #battersea #batterseafood #homemadefood #foodporn #authentic #supportblackbusiness #blackbusinesses #organic

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But since opening last month, Sugar Cane’s contribution to the community stands out as much as its dishes.

Inspired by his own upbringing in care, Chef Tee has committed to hiring care leavers as employees at his restaurant.

“After spending time in care homes in my teens, I managed to secure my first job when I was 17 at a small café in Balham.

“That job was the lynchpin in me having a career. It enabled me to learn how to cook and move on to restaurants, it all happened because of that one opportunity,” said the 26-year-old. 

He was able to save money and rent a flat, while working in fine dining restaurants in Brixton and the West End.

Now, he wants to give other young people a foot on the ladder.

“I know what restaurants did for me, so I want these children to have at least one shift a week, to able to get the skills to be able to progress themselves.”

“With me they can get food and hygiene qualifications, experience in customer service, CV practice, even just a good reference.”

Wandsworth Times:

Health precautions and menus at Sugar Cane

Chef Tee was never formally trained, picking up his culinary skills through trial and error over the years. He says his crowd-favourite chocolate cake took him three years, and countless late nights, to perfect.

Having a restaurant of his own was always his dream, but for years he struggled to secure a premises after being outbid by large chains.

So, he begun a private business catering from home, building up a close relationship with suppliers in Vauxhall and Brixton, where is still adamant about sourcing organic produce from today.

But when Chef Tee came across a boarded-up shop in Lambeth, in early July, he knew he had found his golden opportunity.

The next month was a labour of love - and 20-hour workdays - knocking down walls, fitting kitchens, fixing the electricity and plumbing, and making menus.

On 5 August, Sugar Cane finally opened its doors - a restaurant which was entirely his own vision.

Wandsworth Times:

Interiors of Sugar Cane

“Working in fine dining restaurants was so stressful, I really just wanted something relaxed,” Chef Tee said.

And with big sharing platters served with helpings of “tropical blessings”, Sugar Cane is anything but stuffy.

While service is not included, the menu says, “If you enjoyed di service, please tip generously so I can buy mi staff rum.”

Judging by the number of repeat customers, this seems to be working.

“I never see what the customer sees but so far, everyone says it feels like they’re at home and that they’re comfortable. That’s the feedback I want, so I think I’ve done something right!”

Though he says he is taking it “one step at a time” the young chef has begun a fundraiser, in the hope that his passion project might one day become permanent.

You can donate here, or find Sugar Cane on Instagram.