By Nigel Spence
Jamaica’s newest Prime Minister – the Hon. Andrew Holness of the Jamaica Labour Party – was sworn into office on March 3, 2016 after voters proclaimed their choice for leadership at the poll.
It seems that from all angles, the losing People’s National Party had no idea what hit them. In fact to steal a quote from one of our very own wannabe leaders right here in the U.S., the shock at losing Portia Simpson as Prime Minister was “HUGE”.
Within minutes of the announcement of the winning party, the internet was aflood with video clips of Portia – in her own unique style – reinforcing her confident expectations at the Polls.
But when I really stop and think about it I can’t help but realize the lesson in this. No matter how long you’ve been at the top – never get too confident or stop delivering on public service promises. Though I am a chef and not a politician, I still have constituents out there who will quickly vote me out if I don’t continue to run tings right in the kitchen domain!
Unlike elected leaders who have the buffer of a few years “to get things right” before another deciding vote goes in, we here at the restaurant are held accountable on a plate by plate basis. Just like voting, each of our guests have a myriad of individual motivations for choosing us over the next guy/gal and we have to satisfy each and every one of those biases EVERYDAY, lest we get kicked to the curb!
With that reality, it’s very challenging to remove long standing menu items to introduce new or updated versions. It becomes a tug of war between keeping our regulars happy with familiar menu items that put us on the map in the first place, versus modifying menu items and cooking techniques to align with changing eating habits, along with the availability of new and healthier ingredients which attracts new guests and sometimes re-ignites the flame of regulars who have become more health conscious. It is a culinary tight rope without a safety net that we walk constantly.
I have chosen to go the vegan route and now understand the great difficulty one faces socially once you embrace this evolving view of eating. The lesson learned quickest is to eat at home before venturing out because most restaurants’ idea of feeding a vegan is a bowl of salad with an apology on the side.
I too have been guilty of that. I always used to wonder why some idiot with these strict dietary constraints would come to a restaurant that clearly does not cater to that demographic and make unreasonable requests to dissect a carefully constructed menu and ask the now irate chef to turn his creation into rabbit supper.
Walk a mile in another man’s shoes before passing judgment is very appropriate here because I am a changed chef both physically and philosophically, and find myself making those very same requests in my favorite places!
I have lost more weight than I care to admit I had on my body and possess a killer energy level. I am also actively doing research and development in my home kitchen with completely organic vegan ingredients to ultimately create some very exciting and healthful dishes that will hopefully keep vegans engaged and enthralled. The vegan options on menus even in vegan restaurants are paltry at best with very few exceptions and I hope to change that. Self interest is probably what is driving me to do this as I easily get bored with food. If I am going to maintain this new way of eating, the offerings are going to have to get a lot more interesting and I realize I am going to have to take matters into my own hands.
So far it has proven to be a difficult task but I will share one of the few real successes I had in the kitchen that was healthy, flavorful, appealing to the eye and a bit unusual.
Zucchini with a Smoked Mushroom Sauce
2 extra large firm Zucchini squash
1/2 cup fresh Porcini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup Coconut yogurt
1/2 tablespoon Smoked hot Paprika
1 teaspoon Cumin seed, ground
2 tablespoons Cilantro, rough chopped
1 cup Spinach leaves, whole, fresh
1 teaspoon Garlic, minced, fresh
2 tablespoons Coconut oil
½ Tsp Cayenne
Salt and Pepper to taste
Char both zucchini whole on the grate of a very hot grill or in the broiler portion of the oven until soft and the skin is charred all over. Remove and allow to cool just enough to handle. Carefully remove the charred skin leaving the zucchini flesh whole.
Heat 1 tablespoon coconut oil in sauté pan and sauté mushrooms till tender.
Remove mushrooms from the pan and reserve. Add an additional tablespoon of coconut oil and garlic, then sauté spinach leaves until wilted and tender. Remove from heat and reserve.
Arrange zucchini on two serving plates. Cut a slit lengthwise through the top of the zucchini and season each with salt and pepper. Stuff each slit with equal amounts of spinach.
To a small saucepan add yogurt, paprika, cumin, cilantro, sautéed mushrooms, and salt and pepper to taste. Heat gently over medium heat stirring to incorporate. Remove from heat as soon as the sauce reaches a simmer. Top each with the yogurt mushroom sauce.
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.