By Alexander Britell
Jamaican cuisine has always featured superb dishes, from jerk to jackfruit, but in recent years, the definition of Jamaican cuisine has begun to change.
And Chef Kenrick Stewart is one of a wave of Jamaican chefs looking to bring Jamaica’s traditional food into the 21st century.
“We have been trying to contemporize our Jamaican identity,” Stewart tells Caribbean Journal. “We look for food like jackfruit, yams and all of our indigenous herbs and spices, in a very contemporary fashion, that can be brought to a new concept.”
The idea, he says, is to reorient traditional foods like breadfruit or coconut in a modern manner: think scotch bonnet pepper with fish, accompanied by a coconut relish.
“We believe that we have flavours in Jamaica that are very unique to Jamaica, and, as a result, we need to showcase that,” he says. “But not showing it in the regular way, but in a very modern and contemporary fashion.”
Modern Jamaican cuisine has been very much on Stewart’s mind of late, as he is leading the Jamaican team at the upcoming Taste of the Caribbean event in Miami, where teams of Caribbean chefs will look to put new spins on their countries’ famed dishes.
Jamaica’s local culinary appreciation is continuing to develop, he says, where more and more people are proud to admit they are “foodies.”
“More persons in Jamaica have become foodies — they have become more aware, they are attending food events, and people are willing to try new things,” says Stewart, a longtime veteran of Jamaica’s food and hospitality industry.
The drive for modernity is part of a wider movement in the Caribbean, he says, from Haiti, which put on what he called a “showcase” of their local food at last year’s Taste of the Caribbean event, to Trinidad, which has long been known for its cuisine but is also working to develop new concepts.
“They are applying the same type of contemporary cuisine that Jamaica is doing, but, at the same time, they have not left their authentic spices or dishes out of it — they have simply made it better,” he said. “People are now willing to go out of the box — in Jamaica all these different cultures have brought their cuisines with them, which plays into our motto, out of many, one people. And that is a distinct advantage.”