Jamaican food doesn’t start and end with jerk and ackee and saltfish, as our insiders’ guide to the island’s booming foodie scene proves…
Michelle Jones – host of food TV series Vibes Cuisine in Jamaica, Michelle names her favourite places to dine on the island.
Theo Smith – the talented young chef heads up Great House Caterers, and is an authority on Jamaican fusion cooking.
Michaal Movery – the man behind Coco Browns sauces, and an evangelist for using fresh, Jamaican-grown ingredients.
Andrea Johnson – founder of coffee trading company Serra, Andrea splits her time between New York and Jamaica.
Jerk is as Jamaican as the 100m sprint (jerk pork is Usain Bolt’s favourite dish, incidentally), and at the heart of it lies the scotch bonnet pepper – a small, wrinkled nugget of fiery heat with a touch of sweetness. It also forms the basis for Coco Browns’ hot sauces, produced by Michael Movery and his wife Jennifer, who started out serving the condiment to diners in their Ocho Rios cafe and now focus solely on making and selling their product. Movery sources most ingredients from farmers in Jamaica, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “Jamaican produce has a distinct flavour”, he says. “A scotch bonnet from anywhere else won’t have the same intensity of heat and flavour.”
Blue Mountain Coffee
Blue Mountain is to coffee what champagne is to sparkling wine. It’s rarer, more expensive and has – if you believe the hype – a more complex flavour than lesser varieties of the black stuff. “I like to think of coffee as a lot like wine,” says Andrea Johnson, whose company, Serra Trading, roasts, exports and distributes Blue Mountain Coffee. Like champagne, it’s also governed by strict laws so only the best coffee from a strictly defined area can be called Blue Mountain. Though most of it’s exported, there’s a growing appreciation for Jamaican coffee in the country. “There’s a small coffee culture developing – cafes are becoming a cool place to hang out and some baristas are learning latte art,” Johnson explains, “though it’s still got a way to go”.
Blending Jamaican food with inspiration from other cuisines is nothing new, says chef Theo Smith: “Jamaican cuisine soaked up influences from around the world when settlers first came to the island centuries ago.” Though not widespread among most Jamaicans, Smith says fusion cooking “has grown in popularity among food enthusiasts”. His guava-glazed pork loin with polenta and Provençal vegetables takes the best of Jamaican produce and gives it a European spin.
Michelle Jones: Top 5 Jamaica Eats
Robin's Prime: Gloucester Avenue, Montego Bay
Located near Montego Bay’s Hip Strip district, this chic, modern space turns out awesome steaks – my favourite is the rib-eye with macaroni and cheese on the side. Also serves a great breakfast.
Little Ochie: Alligator Pond, Jamaica’s South Coast
Evrol ‘Blackie’ Christian’s rustic seafood spot has grown from a one-man operation to a major employer in the community, complete with its own food festival. It’s well worth the drive for the food and scenery, and I always opt for steamed snapper with bammy – a flat cassava flour cake that helps soak up every drop of the creamy sauce.
Guilt on the Terrace at Devon House, Kingston
Recently located to the historic Devon House, Guilt is a garden oasis in the heart of Kingston’s Half Way Tree district. My go-to dish is Guinness-braised oxtail with penne – and no, I don’t feel the least bit guilty for ‘nyamming’ here every chance I get.
G’s BBQ, Marketplace, Kingston
Pork lovers in the know don’t miss the last Tuesday of every month at G’s, when this family-run BBQ restaurant roasts up an entire pig. Reservations are definitely recommended for this yummy feast – I’ll fight you for the last crunch of crackling.
Tamarind Indian Cuisine, Barbican Road, Kingston
Nirvana for curry and Asian food lovers, Tamarind has a brigade of north Indian chefs making exquisite, silky sauces and clay oven-baked naan, not to mention tandoori. I love the Tamarind grill platter, but vegetarians won’t feel neglected.
Michelle Jones has been on a “Great Jamaican Eating Tour” for almost a decade as host of ‘Vibes Cuisine’
A Fresh Startup: Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship
Opened in Montego Bay in 2011 by Sir Richard Branson, the Branson Centre offers Jamaican entrepreneurs coaching, mentoring, and the tools needed to build a successful enterprise. “Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely road, and there are pitfalls you can avoid with the right support,” says Michael Movery. “The centre has changed the way I look at my business.”
The Branson Centre is supported by Virgin Holidays and Virgin Unite. bransoncentre.org