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Kwame’s Story

Kwame Onwuachi

Lesson time 51 min

Take a journey to Jamaica with chef Kwame Onwuachi, to discover the roots of his Afro-Caribbean food.

Students give this lesson an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

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The first time I remember cooking was eggs. My mother had a catering company that she operated from the house and it was a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx. And it was just me, my mom, and my sister. So in order to help keep the lights on and, you know, water running and food in our mouth, like everybody had to work, you know? So she threw me an apron when I was like five years old and she was like, “Dude, get to it.” And I remember getting on a little stool, having a wooden spoon, and my mom saying, you know, you put all the, you know, you scramble the eggs, you whisk them up, you put them in the pan, you light it gently, and as they start to congeal on the outside, pull them in. And continue to pull them in until you have your desired texture. And I thought it was like wizardry, you know, like you see this egg go from a raw form to a cook form. I was able to have fun with food at a very early age and like get a dance with food. When I would make these things, it would be like, I would present it to my babysitter or present it to my mom. It’s not like I would be in there eating it, like getting down. It was, it was a act of love. And I think that’s why, you know, that’s what makes certain dishes really, really special and really shine because they have a story and a soul associated with it. Yo, we’re here. We’re finally here. Finally. My God. Jamaica. Whoo! Even the air is different out here. I think anyone who wants to be successful, you know, you can’t do it alone. Some people get very blessed to have someone that kind of believes in you more than you believe in yourself at certain points in time. Yeah, man. Welcome to Jamaica man. Welcome. Oh, thank you. Thank you, thank you. Thank you. That’s what Paz is to me. Look at us, man. I met Kwame in culinary school on the very first day. Kwame, he stood out. He had tattoos, he had style, and all this stuff. And I was like, “I definitely wanna be friends with this guy.” Honestly, we said, “What’s up” to each other and never looked back. [David] First stop, ackee and saltfish. [Kwame] Ackee and saltfish. [David] Woo wee! [Kwame] We’ve been cooking Jamaican cuisine for 10 years and I’ve been showing him an extension of my culture through these recipes. But I think you need to come to the land to really understand it. Damn. This is it. Yo, we’re here man. Triple T’z. Been talking about Jamaican food for so long. I’ve been trying to show you my culture for so long and now we’re finally here. Bro. I’m so excited for some breakfast. You ready to eat? Let’s get it. Ms. Anderson. Good morning. [David] Hi Ms. Anderson. [Ms. Anderson] Good morning. Good morning. [David] Good morning. [Ms. Anderson] How we doing? I’m doing great. I’m doing better now. So what are we making today? We’re doing some ackee and saltfish and we have mackerel. Mackerel. Who caught mackerel. You know mackerel, right? Liver- [Kwame] Okay. -and kidney and some callaloo and corn pork. [Kwame] Okay. Nice. Can you walk me to these pots, please? Yeah, sure, sure. [Ms. Anderson] So. [Kwame] Oh my god. [David] Whoo! Some curry chicken. If this goes missing, okay. [Ms. Anderson] Okay. You just don’t, don’t look for me, all right. Man, Triplet T’z is like the one stop shop, everything you could possibly want in the Jamaican cannon of cuisine. But the most importantly I just smell my, like, childhood when I walk into that kitchen. Wow. What’s the, you know, tell me, tell me your secret. You know what you got in there? Oh well we are gotten an award about our oxtail. Lord have mercy. Do you have the peas in there already? Yes. That are already cooked? Yes, it’s already cooked. Okay. And you use that pea water- Right. for that to make it nice and brown. Yes. We know what’s up. We doing something right. I’m tired of looking at food. I want to eat some food now. You’re famous for ackee and saltfish. Yes. Right. Like that’s a national dish in Jamaica. [Ms. Anderson] Right. Ackee and saltish is something we’ve been talking about for a long time, but ackee, especially fresh ackee, is not accessible anywhere else but here. It’s hard to imagine what it is. [Kwame] It’s this fruit that grows from this large tree, but it does have a vegetal-forward flavor with it as well. It’s always been so interesting ’cause it’s like I can try and imagine like what ackee is like, but I won’t really know until I try it. So I’m really excited for it. Looks like it’s time. Good morning. Hello. Good morning. How are you? [Kwame] Woo! That’s what I’m talking about. Mmm. Mmm. Oh, I love that. This ackee is savory. It’s like so creamy and I know you’ve explained it like scrambled eggs before, but it’s hard for me to like really think like, man, this is a fruit that is textually like a soft scramble. And, but it absolutely hits with the saltfish, like, you know how I am about my eggs. I think I could eat this every day. Explaining this to, in America, to other like American children, they didn’t get it. If you asked most people what Caribbean cooking is bet the only thing they could say is jerk. You know. I didn’t know anything about Caribbean food growing up. I would, I grew up in northern New Jersey. It was a lot of Italian restaurants. My family’s Guatemalan and Jewish. I didn’t even learn about it in culinary school. You know, it’s just something that people didn’t know about. You know, it’s my version of eggs and bacon and pancakes. Like this is, this is breakfast to me. Jamaican cuisine is my childhood. I come from a long line of chefs, honestly. My family was always the family that had the restaurants in the neighborhoods and I definitely think that trickled down to me. I think showing the bounty of Caribbean and African cuisine is so important ’cause people have this like idea in their head, if they don’t even know. They have no idea. It’s just like it’s something I could be proud of. I think there’s a lot of places in America where a lot of people of color can’t celebrate special experiences while celebrating their culture at the same time. And that’s why I wanna always tell the story of these people. I wanna always put this food in the plate. I wanna always make sure it’s at the forefront of anything that I’m doing, to keep that legacy going. I would not advise eating ackee raw. It’s a poisonous fruit. Once it opens up, you know, it releases its toxins and the really toxic part are the seeds. So it needs to be cleaned properly. I can remember it for as long as I’ve been alive. It was just always there. Mmm. It’s so good. I’m pretty sure my grandma Gloria used to serve it to me as a kid, my Uncle Rupert on the weekends. This is just a dish that’s been all around and for me it reminds me of comfort and it just shows me my heritage. At Kith/Kin, you know, we took food that didn’t get the attention it deserved and put it on a stage where people could come in and be proud of their food. [Kwame] It smells amazing. That scent of the ocean from the salt fish. And then you get this like subtle sweetness from the ackee. Mmm. That’s it right there. [David] That’s it. That’s it right there. [David] Kwame had a catering company when we were in culinary school. And so like the very first event I did with him, it was a small dinner party at this loft in New York. What’s up? What’s up, man? Oh, what’s up, man? You got space for me on that grill? Oh, you know I do. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I was like 20 years old. I had no business license. I had no kitchen. I was living with my friend at the time and she asked me to make these cheesecakes. I was like, “Okay, I’ll make ’em for you. I’m a master at cheesecakes.” Never made cheesecakes in my life. Well you know how this is gonna turn out. [David] That’s gonna be it. So I was like trying to perfect this cheesecake. I needed it to be perfect. I was not letting it be coagulated like the eggs or separated. I wanted to be this beautiful and finished product. His standards are unwavering. It’s really impressive, you know. He’s not gonna ask anybody anything that he wouldn’t do himself. I remember looking at the clock and it was like 8:00 AM and I had to be there at like 10, but I was like, “Wow.” I was literally up all night trying to perfect this one thing. Like, this must be what I need to be doing for the rest of my life. Cheers. Cheer to us. To us. Cheers to Jamaica. And I taste them and I was like, “Damn,” like, “How long have you been cooking this?” He’s like, “Oh, this is my first time.” So like immediately I was like, yo, he’s got it right. He’s like, he’s just confident enough to try this for a dinner party. And I was just, I wanted to be a part of it. And I knew he was gonna be, gonna be great and I just wanted to help him get there. Hey, yo, man. Thanks for coming on this trip with me. Hey. [Kwame] Cheers. Salud. I love you. [David] I love you, bro. Thanks for having me. Of course, man. You’re family. Let’s eat some chicken. Hell yeah. Cheers, man. Cheers, friend. [Kwame] Are you ready? Yo, I don’t think you’re ready. [David] Bro, I stay ready. [Kwame] All right. You’ve had jerk, okay, maybe a couple thousand times, but this is jerk chicken in Jamaica in Kingston. I’m gonna take ya to Dr. Sonjah. She is like a cultural icon here and I think, you know, jerk has such a interesting history. So to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth is gonna be everything. [David] I’m excited. Is that Dr. Sonjah? Hi. Hello, Kwame. [Kwame] Dr. Sonjah, the culture doctor. She is someone who knows a lot about Jamaican history. So tell me a little about yourself. So I’m a senior lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus here in Jamaica. Okay. It’s not even work for me because when it comes down to culture, I call it my home. It’s my academic home. You’re full of so much cultural knowledge and jerk chicken is one of them. Jerk is one of them. Yeah. So you ready to see what’s going on in the kitchen? Absolutely. You can teach a little bit more. I hear there’s a fabulous kitchen here. I can’t wait. You know, as a Jamaican, you have to be connected to jerk. Yeah. There’s just no way to not be connected to jerk as a Jamaican. [Kwame] Walking behind the scenes into Kingston Jerk it’s kind of like a speakeasy. You have to like knock three times and have a password. Wow. [Gavin] Yeah. So tell me the process between, so you make your jerk paste here. [Gavin] We make the jerk seasoning in house. Okay. For process blend. Can’t tell you what else. [Kwame] Okay. We get the birds, we open them up, butterfly them up, stuff the seasoning under the skin, let it marinate for a day or two, and then we hit the grill. So it’s just fresh coals. Correct. Fresh coals. We have some secret wood in there that will help with the smoking. Doc can tell you about that. That’s the real origin of the thing. [Kwame] The smoke in jerk chicken is a huge factor in identifying it as jerk chicken and especially pimento wood that comes straight from Jamaica. And it adds a complexity to it, you know, it adds this richness to it. Another element to the chicken that makes it, you know, I think the best chicken in the world. What is it? Is thisCan I try that a little piece right there? Yep. You sure? Okay. All right, all right. I’ma just, okay. That’s fine. Okay. Oh, my god. Medicine. This is so good. I’ve had a lot of jerk pork and that was, that was up there. Where’s this stuff made? Can you show me, like, where do you season this stuff? Definitely, we’ll bring you to the prep room right now. All right, let’s do it. All right, let’s go. They have a section that’s just for prep. You have a room that’s just for pork. Then you walk into another room. It’s just for chicken. And I mean, you see it’s mapped out like a military. So- Wow. Ya man. Hold on, hold on, hold on. We gotta talk about what’s going down right here. This looks really, really great though. [Gavin] Ya man. [Kwame] Like. [Gavin] So if you notice, she immersed the entire bird in the seasoning. [Kwame] She’s stuffing it in. [Gavin] And the season is actually in under the skin. Placed in buckets. Stored for like a day or two. [Kwame] One at a time? [Gavin] Yeah. Look at the attention to detail- [Gavin] Yeah. -like one at a time. I think people think you can just put a jerk paste on anything and throw it on the grill and call it jerk chicken or a jerk fish. And that’s not the case at all. This is a dish that’s like highly complex, that takes a lot of care and attention to detail to get it properly done. Wow. This is a symphony of flavors right here. [Gavin] Right now. I taste green onion. I taste thyme. I taste garlic. I taste allspice. I taste salt. Definitely. You’re close. Ginger. Scotch bonnet. Definitely. This is good. A bit of sugar. [Kwame] A touch of sugar. You guys are, you guys are close. Maybe a little lime. You’re close. Close. We got the recipe. You we outta here. We don’t need . We out. Let’s try to finish that. All right. We did it, y’all. We did it, y’all, yeah! The tank finally arrived. Cheers. Cheer. Cheers. Cheers. Cheers. Cheers. To the island. To the island. To the island. This little island is not going to be found by anybody who doesn’t know it. I tell people Jamaica is cartographically absent, but culturally magnificent. [David] I love that. Oh my god. [Dr. Sonjah] Wow. [Kwame] Okay. Okay. So we have jerk chicken right here. We have some pepper sauce, some jerk barbecue, some jerk pork, steamed fish. We have some breadfruit, festival, some french fries, some bammy, and some green banana. You know, people try to say or insinuate that Caribbean or African cooking cannot be as refined as any other thing. And this is the ultimate refinement right here. Ultimate refinement. There is science in this. You can this up to any other dish in the entire world. [Dr. Sonjah] Oh, there’s science in this. This is globally recognized now. And. Exactly. Jamaica is recognized globally for a number of things. Jamaican music, you know, Jamaican food, but jerk being the quintessential fusion of Jamaican history. Yeah. The Tainos and the Maroons of course linked up in the hills when they escaped the British. The maroons waged war against the British, so much so they had to retreat. Rightfully so. Yes. They developed ways to kill, store, season, and cook. And it’s like an act of preservation, right? [Dr. Sonjah] Act of preservation, so. The salt. All of like the salt and the thyme and the chilies at that time. Overdose almost. [Kwame] Almost overdose. Overdose. To preserve it. To preserve. Yeah. And so you have, you know, pimento being a central component of jerk. These underground pits that were used, smokeless pits, were really key, key elements of, you know, just the cooking methods. It was key to like preserving their own existence. Their life. Their life form, Right? Absolutely. So they, you know, they didn’t let the smoke release so they covered it with banana leaves or whatever. And yes, we’re still eating it to this day. We’re looking here at this table at the most commercial representation of jerk. Yeah. I always say if a dish tells a story, it has a soul. You’re not just cooking for perfect seasoning. And if there is one dish that really encapsulates that mantra, it’s jerk chicken. A hundred percent. And jerk pork and all of jerk. So I’m gonna, let’s, let’s stop talking for a second. Let’s dig in. We’re gonna do a little jerk cheers. Cheers. Cheers. Cheers. Jerk is a dish of freedom. Really. You know, there’s so much history in that dish for, you know, Jamaicans, a sense of pride. It’s a dish that really explains their culture and the tenacity of Jamaicans. [Dr. Sonjah] See that seasoning? It’s all the way through. [David] It’s delicious. There’s a lot of love in it. Look at that right there. Today is a great day, Paz. If you’re looking for fresh ingredients and fresh spices, the only place to go is Coronation Market. This isn’t a market that you know, tourists would come in just to take photos. This is a market that people are going to purchase food for their family. You can tell this has been there for generations and generations. It was a well oiled machine. It just showed the life of Jamaica. And you know, they do things their own way, you know. They beat to their own drum. Hi, how are you? I would love to get some pumpkin. I need this right here. So the first thing I got was pumpkin. It was like electric orange from this lady that held so much respect in her stature. [Vendor In Background] All right, here we go. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you. I would love to get some plantains, try this passion fruit over here. Can I have like four of those, too? $6.50. The spice lady, she’s been here for over 20 years selling spices, making her own signature blends. Okay, we have dried here. $300. [Kwame] Okay. Red peas. 200. That’s to five. We have the seasoning here. . [Kwame] . $200. $1,200. And here we have the “talk bouts.” [Kwame] Why they call it that. Once you useOnce you use it, they got to talk about it. [Kwame] All right. Okay. [Kwame] This a lot of spices. Take care all. Have a nice day. [Kwame] All right. Thank you. Walking outta Coronation Market, my hands are as full as my inspiration from this magical place. I get inspiration from all around. You know, Jamaica is so lush. There’s food growing, you know, there’s breakfast trees essentially. Ackee just growing wild all the time. You know, there’s banana trees everywhere. This is a derivative of my mother’s house spice. It’s called all purpose seasoning. It’s a spice blend that she uses she taught me at a very young age. It’s like salts on steroids. Honestly, there’s not a recipe normally that I don’t use this. And now it’s time to make this beautiful, fresh curry powder. Jamaican cuisine is one of the most complex cuisines in the world. You’ll find things that are fresh, you’ll find things that are stewed. You’ll find things that are spicy. You’ll find things that are sweet. There’s something for everyone there. And when I’m doing this, I’m not looking for a color or anything. I’m using my senses. I can already smell these spices toasting. There’s a lot of cultures that have had influence in Jamaican cuisine. I feel like there’s, you can see yourself in some of the dishes. These are the marinades that I use in my restaurant and at home. Mmm. It’s so good. This is what adds so much depth to flavor to Caribbean cooking. Now I’m gonna mix it up. The Indians actually came over here as indentured servants. So a lot of the food has lots of similarities to Indian cuisine. And that’s where you get your curried goat, your curry chickpeas, and things like that. Even, you know, the beef patty, it came from the British. Their meat pies. Jamaicans, they just spiced it up and made it delicious. [David] The biggest thing about Kwame’s cooking is that a lot of the food that he cooks is his versions of Jamaican classics. You know, he says if a dish has a story, it has a soul. He always wants to have that soul in the dish. But like, he’s also gonna have some fun with it. It’s very good. I’m gonna add some salt to it now. Cooking should be about feeling. It should be about touch. It should be about using all your senses, your smell, your sight, even your hearing, right? So, you know, don’t be afraid to play around. I think a lot of us chefs that have, you know, can cook really good now is because we weren’t afraid to make mistakes. And then we learned from those mistakes. This is so worth the time it takes to make it from scratch. Mmm. This just in, we’re on our way to the Blue Mountains. Paz, what do you think about that? You know, it’s a pretty bumpy ride from down there, here to up there. But we’re really looking forward to it. Should be a very scenic afternoon for us. Scenic indeed. Fun fact about the Blue Mountains, the governor of Martinique once gave the governor of Jamaica a gift of a coffee plant. Now, years later, here we are. Amazing to see what seed can do. It’s a very inspiring story of just starting as an underdog and coming up to thrive. Back to you, Kwame. We’re gonna take itI got nothing. So yo, we’re heading to the largest coffee estate in all of Jamaica. This place is over 200 years old. It’s 300 acres. [David] Wow. [Kwame] Have you ever seen like coffee in like real life, up close? I actually, I actually have. So my father, as you know, is from Guatemala and his father was a farmer. So he grew coffee and then sugar cane and then rubber trees and has kind of like done that cycle a couple times. So just excited to go place that’s like a little familiar but in a completely new environment. There have always been like these aspects of mine and Kwame’s lives that have connected. We just like never really knew. I can draw so many similarities between Guatemala and here. And so, like for me, I do feel like a deep connection because I have, I have so much love and connection with Guatemala that I can also feel here. And so it’s really cool to be here. [Estate Owner] Oh, we have guests. [Estate Owner] Yeah. Welcome. We made it. But we’re here. We made it. We’re here. We’re on top of the mountain. [Estate Owner] Welcome to Sherwood. Oh man, it’s so good to see you. Come here. Pia and Courtney own 200 year old coffee reserve. It’s definitely a crown jewel of Jamaica. Why are they called a Blue Mountain? Yeah, I see a lot of green. Ah, so when you were driving up, hopefully you would’ve noticed that when it’s overcast, you have the mountain range almost look blue. [Kwame] Okay. And there’s a lot of cloud cover pretty much consistently- Oh, okay. Okay. -here in the mountains. Okay. That gives you that misty blue color. Yeah. [David] Beautiful. Love that. That’s so cool. Yeah. And that’s what also makes the coffee really great. Right. ‘Cause it slows the maturity rate. So you get the really good cup of coffee up. All right, I need to try some coffee at this point. Come on. Absolutely. You’ve got me sold. For me, this is the first time I’ve seen coffee from its bean, it’s in its natural areas, which it would grow. So they take that and then they dry it and ferment it on these, what they call barbecues where they spread all the coffee beans. There was just so much history there. I can tell that place has been there for a long time. Wow. So come on in. So this is where the magic happens. This is where all the magic happens. Okay. This is where we make sure that the coffee is absolutely excellent. The ladies here are, they’re just picking out all of the beans that may have a defect of some sort, a little chip here or there. They are experts at it. And it’s also one of the reasons why Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is so precious and expensive. Because everything is manually sorted. I mean, talk about attention and detail, right? They are picking this coffee by hand. There’s no machines going around, even picking it off the plant. What’s your name? Charlene. Kwame. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Can you show me the difference between a good bean and a defect bean? This is what’s come out. So this is actually the good bean. Okay. So this is a defect bean. This will go in the bucket. So this is a good bean right here. This is the one that gets imported and that’s why this is signature Blue Mountain coffee. And then the bad bean is like distorted, maybe a little discolored, and chipped and things like that, right? So what do we do with this? So we still use them because they still come from the same plant. Yeah. It’s still, you know, a great quality, but it has to have a certain, or it can only have a certain amount of defects- So you have a standard. -to be exported as a particular grade. But we still use all of it. Nothing goes to waste. Before we have a cup of coffee, there’s something really important I want to show you. [Kwame] Okay. [Courtney] Which is distinctly Jamaica Blue Mountain. And it’s the only coffee that’s shipped like this around the world. [Kwame] Really? [Courtney] Come on and have a look. You tell everybody that, don’t you? [Courtney] So. It’s so dark in here. Why it so dark in here? One of the reasons why we have the light dimmed in here is to ensure that the coffee doesn’t lose it’s color. Too much of the light is not good for coffee. Okay. It needs a particular humidity and a certain amount of lighting to stay green and fresh. This is trademark Jamaica Blue Mountain. It’s the only coffee that’s shipped around the world in a barrel like this. And you take a particular skill to put them together. Can I help? Like, put that together? Yeah. Okay. I’m gonna hold this side for you. Okay. And then you put the rest on. So y’all got me to work. What kind of coffee are we drinking if I’m doing all this banging? It’s, you’re gonna get a nice cup of grade one mixed with peaberry. Okay. So there’s a little reward for you. All right. That’s it? That’s it. Okay. Can we get a little, like, well, let’s go. Yay! We did it. I didn’t do much but I like to feel like I did. Thank you brother. I appreciate it, man. I’m hungry and I want to try some coffee. We’ve got both. All right, let’s do both. Let me just see. Here we go. Right? [Kwame] So let me get one cream and two sugars. Not today. Not here. [Pia] Yeah, that’s not allowed. [Kwame] Wow. This may be the first time I’m appreciating coffee, I’m being honest with you. Yeah? Yeah? I drink coffee in the restaurants for fuel just to get through service. But like, this is the different, I mean, how could you not appreciate it? [Pia] Exactly. We’ve seen it from berry to like sifting to roasting or drying on your platform. Yes. Yes. Then to roasting than to cup. I mean- [Pia] Yeah. -it’s a different experience- Exactly. -and I think anyone could appreciate this. Yeah, it’s like malty. Yes, I was gonna say- A bit nutty, a bit nutty. I was gonna say it’s a little chocolatey as well. Yes. Like if I let it sit in my tongue and I take like a breath in, it really opens up. Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee is really known for the lack of bitterness in the after taste. And that is because of the soil composition up here in the mountains and everything that gives you that unique taste profile. Well it was really nice to show you guys . We’re not done. I’m not gonna lie, the coffee was prevalent, but I smelled some curry goat. Yeah. I heard like the people that like tend these lands, they make amazing food. So can I see what’s going on upstairs? Absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s go try some. [Kwame] Let’s do it. Look at this. I know, it’s gorgeous. Look at this. Hello. Hello. Hello. [David] Great to meet you. How you doin,’ ma’am? Emily. Yes. I’ve heard a lot about you. Yes. Oh man, that smells amazing. Cooking outside is so tribal. It brings people together. You know, you think of cookouts in America, you know, barbecues, you know, pig roasts in Hawaii. This is another version of that. Wow. So what’s in here, some? [Cook] Thyme, skillen. [Cook] Garlic. [Cook] Garlic and stuff like that. [Kwame] That’s beautiful. And that’s the tail right there? [Cook] The balls. [Kwame] The balls. [David] Oh, there you go. [Kwame] The gonads. Do you all fight over that? Yeah. Who’s favorite is that? [Bystander] Everybody wants it. Everybody wants it. I guess we’re having some balls today. You eatin’ balls today? Yeah, for sure. Yeah? Yeah, this is, it’s one of those days, you know. Don’t judge me now. That’s a Jamaican tradition. We’re doing tradeaway. Okay, beautiful. And what’s inside here? That’s a mannish water. Mannish water. Mannish water. So mannish water, it’s a soup and it has a lot of the parts that we don’t use for the curry goat. So like all of the offals, you know, it’ll have the head, the kidneys and the liver and all that stuff gets boiled and boiled and boiled with like breadfruit and yam and sweet potato to make this like delicious hearty broth. Can you tell us why they call it mannish water? This is a little aphrodisiac, you know, for the men. You know if they drink this right, they’re strong, right? Is that, is that the truth? Aw, you getting a little nervous? What we making here? [Cook] Brown stew chicken. [Kwame] Oh. [David] Brown stew chicken. [Kwame] I want brown stew chicken. This is what I want. Do we need some help here? [Cook] When you cook it down. [Kwame] When you cook it down. Okay. Okay. It’s my favorite dish. This is like so homey. This is like after school you come home. More salt too. This is why when you’re in Jamaica, things taste a little bit better here. It’s because of these herbs that only grow here. I’m just gonna put some of this- These gonna be our secret weapon. Yes. This is a giant pot of rice that you cooked perfectly. We have like Michelin star chefs in America that cannot make rice like this. I just wanna note that. Thank you so much. Can I have some curry goat please? Okay, hold on. If I eat it, you eat it. Yeah, no problem. Yeah, we can eat it. No problem. Let’s slice it up. No problem. Maybe you need more. It’s amazing. You wanna try some? [David] I’m here. It’s great. This is delicious. This brown stew chicken, which is like, this is my thing. So I get to Hellshire and I meet Teika. What’s up? Hey, how you doing? I’m good. It’s good to see you. Come in. Who is the owner of Being Jamaican, which is like a tourism board for Jamaica that takes people and shows them like cultural experiences. So Hellshire is like a fisherman’s village. Like the people that are actually selling the fish are going and like catching them. So like what kind of fish can I expect to get at a place like this. Fresh fish just catch this morning. So it should be really delicious. Let’s see it. Let’s go. Let’s go. Are we talking about steam, fry, jerk? Any way you like. Oh my god. Oh my god, I’m so excited. Teika and I are winding through the back of Hellshire. She told me that she went there as a child and still goes there to this day. So where is this, where is this here boat, talking about. But I wanna see what can be done on Hellshire. I wanna see all the different variation of cooking styles so that I can then melt that into my cuisine. I have no idea what’s happening behind this. [Teika] Looking- [Kwame] Wow. Look at this. This, you live here. This is all here. This is paradise. [Teika] It’s amazing, isn’t it? They’re here. Hey. [Kwame] What is going on? So Teika introduces me to Benny and he opens up his cooler. He has spiny lobsters, which are different from, you know, the lobsters we’re used to in America with the claws. That’s big. That’s heavy, huh? They just have this thick tail with a lot of meat inside. He has everything from parrotfish to snapper to butterfish. Butterfish. This’s what I eat in America a lot. But I never seen it like this. I think they were lying to me out there. You don’t have lionfish. [Kwame] Lionfish, which is my favorite. It’s an invasive species with like no natural known predators. So it’s always encouraged in any Caribbean island to catch as much as you can of it to help out the coral reefs. What is this? [Teika] That’s massive. Okay. So what are you gonna eat? ‘Cause this is all mine. There’s so many fish that I haven’t even tried. There’s so many fish that I’m excited to try in it’s true essence. Ah! I want it all. All right, you’ll get it all. [Teika] I’m not that hungry. So we head to Aunt Merl’s, who pretty much started Hellshire and taught everyone how to cook the fish, you know, created festival and is one of the most popping shacks on the whole beach. [Teika] Oh wow. Look at how massive this frying pan is. This is history right here. It’s perfect. [Kwame] The kitchen is humble. There’s no gas, you know, it’s all wood that’s burning, you know, under these, you know, boiling pots of oil like a cauldron. And then they’re just gently throwing in the fish. It just felt like, it felt so rich in culture. This is great. Look at us. I wasn’t eating with tourists, you know. There were the people of Jamaica around me. This is where they eat. Wow. This looks amazing. [Kwame] And some steamed fish. [Teika] Ooh. Oh my goodness. [Teika] This looks so good. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] And here are- And this is the escovitch sauce. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] Right. That’s the escovitch. Sorry. [Kwame] This the? [Aunt Merl’s Employee] This is the festival- And breadfruit. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] With breadfruit, fried breadfruit. [Teika] Fried breadfruits. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] Right. And this is the fry fish. [Kwame] Woo. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] So you have some parrots. [Kwame] Parrots. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] You have some lionfish. [Kwame] Lionfish. [Teika] Oh. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] Right. [Kwame] Butterfish. [Teika] Yes. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] Butterfish, right. You know fish. I know fish. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] Right. I know a little something-something. [Teika] Oh my god. [Aunt Merl’s Employee] And here come the yummy lobster. Ooh. Can we have all of this? [Kwame] More? You’re back? I’m back again. [Kwame] You’re back. What you got this time? [Aunt Merl’s Employee] You’re gonna love this. This is the curry clam. [Kwame] Oh my. [Teika] Wow. Are you serious? You gonna sit down and help us eat? [Cameraperson] Amazing. [Kwame] I’m gonna get in here and get a little piece for this zone. [Teika] You went right for the claw. [Kwame] Right for the claw. [Teika] You can tell that it’s fresh. I mean we got this off the boat. That’s right. You know what I mean? Just catch. I’m so jealous. [Teika] Of what? ‘Cause you get to eat this all the time. Everyday. [Kwame] Wow. [Teika] My favorite is the festival. Oh yeah. That’s what they’re known for here, right. Nobody does festival like them here. [Kwame] Look at this butterfish. They call it butterfish for a reason. It is justLook at it falling off. Flaking beautifully. Super juicy. So you take that, and for me, you know I dip it straight in the escovitch, like this. [Teika] You love that pepper? Mm. That’s it. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know where to end. I’m just like, wow. Wow. How do you pick your meals? Like is it based on occasion or is it based on like your feeling. Craving? That’s it. Whatever I crave, you know. Also what I cook is based off of like what I think people would really want. I think cooking is like a selfless act, right? [Teika] Yeah. Everything they did today was like not self-centered. [Teika] Yeah. They got the fish right from the ocean there. Yeah. They asked us what kind of fish we wanted. They asked us what kind of preparation we wanted to cook it. It’s a selfless act. [Teika] Yeah. And I think that’s when it’s so beautiful. So for me it’s like what does the crowd want? How long have you been a chef? My mom, she had a catering company that she operated from the house. [Teika] Oh. So I always was in the kitchen since I was a little kid. [Teika] So all your life. You following your mommy’s footsteps. Yes I am. I’m sure she’s very proud of you. I would hope so. I would hope so. I’m actually bringing her to Jamaica to show her the food that, you know, we grew up on. We grew up in the Bronx, which has a huge Jamaican population. I’ve been here with my father before. I’ve been here alone. But I’ve never been here with my mom. And to have Jamaican food have such an impact on the cuisine of my childhood, it’s only right that she’s here to experience this with me. Is that who I think it is? Hello. [Kwame] Hey, momma. How are you? Hello, my love. [Kwame] She’s a free spirit, my mother. You know, she does what she wants. She lives life every single moment. She always taught us values of like we should always be true to ourselves and have that be a reflection on how we portray ourselves to the world as well. Oh my goodness. This is your kitchen? While I’m here. In Jamaica. In Jamaica, in Jamaica. All right. We are here. Can you- [David] Kwame’s mom. She is. I mean her name is Jewel. She is definitely a gem. So what are we making? Oxtail. [Jewel] Well, good. Let’s see if yours is better than mine. She is as unwavering as Kwame. She got Kwame started in the kitchen when he was five, doing anything that you would let a five year old do in the kitchen plus, you know, maybe a couple more things that a five year old shouldn’t do. Beautiful. So whenever I’m eating oxtail outside, I always compare the oxtail to your oxtail. Yeah? Yeah. Whatever country I’m in. Jamaica, the United States, The Bronx. ‘Cause you know that’s a country too. Yours is pretty amazing. Thank you. Yeah. That means a lot comingI think that’s the first compliment I ever got. Jesus Christ. Is someone recording this? My determination and my ambition comes from just appreciating the gift of life itself. You know, I definitely get some from my mom. I think I started making cocktails before I could drink them. I remember the first cocktail you actually made. It was watermelon. Yeah. It was a watermelon- [Jewel] It was a water- -like basil thing. I had this big watermelon and you started breaking it down. Pureed everything. Strained it through. I was like, how does he know how to do this? I watched you. [David] Kwame is very similar to her and- You can try it. [David] He really trusts her. That’s delicious. She is, has pointed him in the right direction a million times. [Jewel] What are you doing over here? Oh my gosh. [Kwame] You wanna take a look? [David] Actually I’ve never known Jewel to be wrong. She’s a huge part of Kwame’s success. Oh my gosh, that is lovely. I will honestly say that that’s better than mine. All right, I’m outta here. Hey, what’s up? What’s up? What’s up? [Guest] Hey! First and foremost, I’m gonna introduce my mother. Hey, mother! [Kwame] This is Jewel. [Jewel] Hello everyone. So. Thank you. Thank you for welcoming my son. It’s only right that we break bread at the end of all this to really celebrate the people that has graciously brought me in and shown me the beautiful bounty of Jamaica. I just wanna raise a glass to chef Christian Sweenie. [Guests] Hey. Hey guys, hey guys, hey guys. What’s going on? So there’s one dish on the table tonight that I want everybody to try and just gimme their opinion on. This is something that my grandmother used to make for me when I was really young. It’s a dish that’s made from water crackers. So it’s a soaked water crackers with parmesan cheese and grilled shrimp. We have some mushroom tempura, some shrimp tempura. [Guest] Wow. Wahoo ceviche, which was caught by me. [Guest] Really? [Guest] Okay. Yeah. We have a tuna tartar coming out that was also caught by me as well, so. So you can just like go on your boat and just catch whatever you want. [Christian] Yeah. Exactly. Well. That’s unfair. This is pretty unfair. Christian Sweenie so graciously hosted us at Devon House. Seeing, you know, the hands that have created this and you know, the generations of stories passed down. It just is so inspiring for me. How’s that bone marrow, though? [Guest] Sending it down right, no? [Guest] Yes, yes, please. [Guest] Send it down. Send it down. [David] Hey grandma’s dish. [Kwame] Grandma’s dish is fire. [David] Yeah, Chef, . [Kwame] Grandma’s dish is fire. [Guest] Grandma is fire. [Guest] for water crackers. [Kwame] I know water crackers. I do. [Guest] This is amazing. [Kwame] My aunts always had them in America and they always told me they were like biscuits. And I was like, these are not biscuits at all. [Guest] You tell them. [Kwame] Jamaican food is just so good. [Jewel] I literally, there’s a new Jamaican restaurant in New Orleans that I went to yesterday and I was telling the lady that I’m leaving for Jamaica tomorrow. She’s like, “Why are you eating?” I’m like, “This food, you can eat this food every day without any problem.” I’ve eaten all over the world. But like it’s the one cuisine I come back to- [Jewel] You never get enough of. I could never get enough of. Well, you know, your grandmother had a very large part in that. You know, just teaching me how to make the authentic, you know, Jamaican food. And that’s where I learned from. And also my kids had a babysitter who was Jamaican. Tracy. Tracy. She was Jamaican. And so like. But she was part of the family. Like she was more than a babysitter. She was a famyeah, she was more family. She was like a, first of all, she was like two years older than me. I’m like- [Jewel] No she wasn’t! [Kwame] -I’m like, why the hell am I listening to this woman? [Guest] It’s like your big sister. She was. Yeah. But I mean she, between Grandma Gloria and Tracy, like, you know, that’s where I learned to cook a lot of the food at. And that’s where, you know, the Jamaican influence, the music, the culture, you know, all that stuff- [Kwame] Yeah. -kind of like tied in. And then of course, you know, we lived in the Bronx where it’s mostly Jamaicans and so, you know, that was the go-to. Yeah. I remember Tracy coming back from Jamaican one time and she had all these June plums with her. [Guests] Oh. And like. That she wasn’t supposed to bring into the country. She wasn’t supposed to bring into the country. And there was me that were like green. She put, she just put salt on. Salt on it. [Kwame] And was eating it. And she threw me the sweet ones. ‘Cause I was a kid and I was like, this is so amazing man. You know, like. And you know, these memories are still things that I like carry with me to today. So it’s beautiful to be here and like having this full circle moment. I would when, when I was on the plane coming here, you know, I was like, “Man,” you know, “If my father was alive, he would be so proud of Kwame.” Yeah. I mean he would be proud of me too. I mean I have accomplished a lot as well, but Kwame is just taking it to a whole ‘nother level, you know? [Guest] Aw. Jamaica to Kwame is, it’s another home for him. He grew up in the Bronx, but he had a lot of Jamaica with him growing up, you know. For him to be here, I think he can put even more emotion and more soul into those oxtails, into that curried goat, into those beef patties. I just wanted to thank you all so much. You know, every single person at this table, like honestly really means a lot to me. In these past couple days, like I’ve learned a lot about my culture. I learned a lot about my, like where I came from. I learned a lot about why I even love the food that I love. You know. We went to Hellshire Beach together and you showed me all the different stands and the history of festival. And you took me to downtown Kingston as well as the Kingston Jerk Shack and the history of that. And then we went up to the mountains, and then Paz, we’ve been cooking food for the past 10 years. I’ve been showing him Jamaican food for the longest. And now finally we’re here and you know, it all started with you. Aw. [Kwame] So it’s beautiful to have, you know, a table full of people that mean so much to me. Cheers to that. [Guests] Yeah. Cheers. [Kwame] Thank you for making this trip special. You know, I think food for Jamaicans is community. You have food when you gather, you have food when you mourn, you have food when you celebrate. It’s something that is deeply rooted in the fabric of their land. [Jewel] Perfect. Yes. Thank you. [Kwame] Jamaica’s left me with so much. Like, so much inspiration. The food that made me is the food of my ancestors. It’s like reignited my love for this cuisine You’re cooking to share a memory. It was a beautiful experience for me, which just enriched my love for Jamaica and this culture.

About the Instructor

Kwame Onwuachi started peeling shrimp and stirring roux at 5 years old in his mother’s catering kitchen in the Bronx. The James Beard Award-winning chef has received many accolades since then, including FOOD & WINE’S Best New Chef, Esquire Magazine’s 2019 Chef of the Year, 30 Under 30 honoree by both Forbes and Zagat, and has appeared on Bravo’s Top Chef as both a contestant and judge. In his class, Onwuachi embraces the richness of Afro-Caribbean culture and cuisine, and teaches students how to cook his favorite Jamaican recipes.

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