Chef Gariel Ferguson is known on the island as the man who can seriously throw down when it comes to ribs—smoked, braised, grilled, BBQ. Ferguson began working in the kitchen at fourteen, and by the time he was twenty-five, he opened his own restaurant. Ferguson’s career includes three successful restaurants, including Norma’s at the Marina with the late Norma Shirley.
Deeply respected in kitchens around the country, Shirley was the Julia Child of Jamaica. Shirley taught Chef Ferguson to use everything on the island in an extraordinary way. And that’s exactly what he is most excited to share with the world at the NyamJam Festival. Here, Chef Ferguson shares the three main reasons why Jamaican cuisine is ready to takes its rightful place in the international food scene.
1. Jamaican cuisine is different from the rest of the Caribbean.
I think what makes Jamaican food different from the rest of the Caribbean is the integration of various cultures. We benefit from the many immigration patterns that have come through the island. We have Chinese, Indian and European influence. It’s a melting pot of cultures. Curry goat is a staple in Jamaica, and it comes from Indian influence. One thing we’ve retained from our African roots would be jerk, and cooking with ground provisions. These things have helped carry our cuisine to another level.
2. While other cultures influence Jamaican cuisine, we have made it our own.
The Jamaican patty came from England. They call it a pasty, and it’s the same type of crust with meat filling. It was adapted in Jamaica, and the Jamaican patty is the one food that we have perfected. If you have a patty in Jamaica, you’ll see that it is nothing like anything you’ve had anywhere else in the world.
3. We have a revolutionary new product that will change the way people cook.
I’m excited to share how we are starting to share the traditional flavors of jerk with other countries. Pimento wood [traditionally used to smoke jerk chicken and meats] is not something that we can export from Jamaica, because the tree has a very short lifespan.
I’m now using a product called Pimora, where leaves from the pimento tree are made into compressed smoking tablets. You just pop one into your charcoal or gas grill, and as it burns your food will get an authentic pimento flavor. This product will allow us to get the pimento flavor into kitchens overseas. I can’t wait to share this new technology with the visiting chefs at the NyamJam Festival.