By Nigel Spence
As a kid I remember very well my brother teaching me to drive my grandfather’s old beat up blue stick shift Vauxhall Viva that was always parked in the driveway at home, while my grandfather was at work with my Dad.
I was at the tender age of 7, which would put my brother, the teacher, at the ripe old age of 12 years old. To describe these two as mischievous and way too advanced for their ages, would be a gross understatement.
I was barely able to reach the pedals, so the quintessential phone book under the seat is how we finally made it possible for me to navigate the controls. In no time I mastered clutch control, burning tires on lift off, the art of reversing at warp speed in the driveway and hitting the brakes just in time not to tear down the backyard fence; or when going fast enough forward to change gears – not to annihilate the front gate.
During summer break we could barely hold in the anticipation of my Dad and Grandfather’s departure to work so we could get our racetrack set up for the day’s challenges, because of course all of these happenings was without their knowledge, lest we got shutdown!
One particular summer night, our Dad took us to a live stunt driving show that made its way to Jamaica. The name of the show was “Hollywood Hell Drivers”. This was a like a circus for cars, where the stunt drivers would perform death defying tricks to the amazement of the young audience that it attracted. There are two distinct things I remember of that evening. The largest and tastiest peppered shrimp I have ever eaten that my dad bought from a vendor at the gate and the fact that I wanted to be a stunt driver when I grew up.
Most kids would come away energized from shows such as this and live out their fantasies about them by making loud screeching noises while pushing a matchbox car on the floor.
The morning after the show, with brand new inspiration, we decided that we were going to recreate some of the stunts we experienced at the show right there at home with our very own stunt car, the Viva. With the sheer speed we witnessed the night before, we also made an executive decision that the Viva was in dire need of modifications to meet the task of becoming our own personal stunt car. We needed SPEED!
We immediately contacted the only specialist in this field of study that we knew of, told him of our dilemma, and started brainstorming with him as to how to achieve our goal.
Let me lay out the scene as it would have played out had this been videotaped:
A 7 year old child and a 12 year old, with all the seriousness and commitment of true race car drivers, walk down the street to have a meeting with our friend’s uncle who was a mechanic of some sort. I would guess this uncle to be at that time around 50 years old. Without skipping a beat, said uncle delves into the intricacies of advancing the timing of the engine, by shifting the distributor etc. and other tweaks that could get us closer to our goals. We soak up the details like sponges. (We later found out that this Uncle at that time was mad as a shad and was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder).
Armed with cutting edge information, we went back to the old Viva and began the process of transforming it into our stunt vehicle. After what seemed to be an entire day, it was time to go for a test run with the new fixes in place. We turned the ignition to fire up the beast and the starter laboriously turned and turned but no fire! We wore out one battery trying to get it started and went on to wear out another, to no avail.
As they say in Jamaica, to make a long story short, that old reliable Vauxhall Viva that both my Dad and Granddad cherished so much NEVER, EVER STARTED AGAIN. My dad even had specialists from overseas come to try to revive the old “box” car, but not even the best in the automobile industry was able to decipher the complex modifications my brother and I put in place for our stunt car. We were even a little angry inside that they would not allow us to correct the problem that we were so sure we could fix if given enough time.
So, our entire operation and dream of becoming stunt drivers were shut down for the rest of the summer.
Then one of my sisters got married, left the country with her new husband, and asked my dad to keep her car in the driveway so she could have it to use whenever she returned to the island … our shop re-opened.
We never became stunt drivers but we certainly had our fair share of death defying moments behind the wheel of a car.
I did however master the art professionally of making extremely tasty peppered shrimp along the lines of that which I remember so well from that lady at the gate of the Hollywood Hell Drivers exhibition show.
Peppered Shrimp Recipe
20 cloves Fresh Garlic
2 T Garlic Powder
1 Cup rough chopped Scallions
5 sprigs Thyme
2t Black Pepper
1/4 Cup Old Bay Seasoning
1 whole Fresh Scotch Bonnet Pepper
1 Gallon Water
2 pounds extra large shrimp with head, shell and tail on
Put water in stockpot and add all ingredients except shrimp and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and add shrimp. Cook shrimp for 6 minutes, drain and remove. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cool the cooking liquid and store in freezer for your next batch.
Nigel Spence, a Culinary Institute of America alumnus, was born in Kingston, Jamaica. Nigel freelanced at the Television Food Network for 3 years where he worked with culinary luminaries such as Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse. Chef Spence has appeared twice on Throwdown with Bobby Flay where he emerged the victor in cook offs against the Food Network star and was featured on CBS when he appeared on Tony’s Table as well as ABC’s Neighborhood Eats, NBC’s The Today Show , Sirius’ Everyday Living with Martha Stewart and TVFN’s Chopped. The acclaimed and New York Times-reviewed Ripe Kitchen and Bar is Mr Spence’s first entrepreneurial endeavour.