IF only she had the time, Anna-Kay Tomlinson would enrol in cooking school. She even knows which one — Johnson & Wales in Florida, USA. Her urge to formally study cooking may come as a shock to many who know her as Miss T, owner and chef of the Ocho Rios palate-pleaser, Miss T’s Kitchen which was this February voted Best Restaurant in the Caribbean by USA Today’s 10Best. But it is definitely on her list of things to do.
Also on Miss T’s list: a third location. And she wants to publish a book of recipes, another way to feed her deep-seated desire to bring pleasure to people through their taste buds.
Tomlinson has a track record of doing whatever she sets her mind to, so don’t be surprised when she begins to check these things off her to do-list.
She’s spent the last 13 years transforming a plot of land that was once a junkyard into a gastronomic force to be reckoned with. Her influences are everywhere at Miss T’s. It’s in the authentic Jamaican fare she serves up to loyal customers… and new ones lured by the news that Miss T’s Kitchen is the best in the region. It’s also in the fretwork (decorative architectural design) she did herself, the rocking chairs on the Jamaican-style verandah and the ambiance of ‘yaad’ that exudes from every inch of the restaurant. Miss T’s doesn’t have many walls; it’s open and inviting, just the way Tomlinson likes it.
LetsTravelCaribbean.com visited her at her flagship location, Miss T’s Kitchen in Ocho Rios, to chat about food… and the future.
LetsTravelCaribbean.com (LTC): Tell us how your restaurant came to be.
Anna-Kay Tomlinson (Miss T): Miss T’s came about mainly because of my passion for Jamaica, our food, our culture, and our people. I love to jump in my car and find the most amazing spots. Even spots that don’t do food, when I’m done with them a pot of Janga, rundung or breadfruit will be on the fire. I love to cook and I love to please.
From people coming to my house so I could cook for them or me going to theirs, they fell in love with the food. Then they started to say, ‘Oh, Miss T, do a party for me,’ etc. That’s how I really got into it. Those catering jobs were done sometimes out of no kitchen, just a wood fire.
I love to be called Miss T because I know I’m doing something right. I don’t even remember my name anymore because everyone calls me Miss T, including my children.
The spot that I’m at now… it was a junkyard belonging to my father-in-law at the time, and I said I’m gonna turn this into a restaurant, an authentic Jamaican restaurant with all the elements you could think of. And I did just that. It’s here right now, with all the colours, the clinker boards, the flowers, the zinc roof just giving a little piece of Jamaica everywhere, along with some amazing food and service that is equally amazing, because we want to exceed your expectations.
LTC: You’re a self-taught chef who has had great success, by any measure. Would you consider pursuing further training at this point in your career?
Miss T: Yes, thinking about furthering myself in the field gives me goosebumps. I’d love to study in Florida, maybe Johnson & Wales, just to learn simple things like plate presentation or even to make sauces. But I don’t have the time. I’ve never been to school to become a chef. I was self-taught and it is so amazing that I have grown. I remember the first time I cook rundung mackerel for my first boyfriend — not even the dog would eat it. Now rundung is one of the favourites at Miss T’s.
LTC: What’s your client base like and has it evolved over the years?
Miss T: My customer base is wide and it’s changing every day. I get a lot of locals from all over, and I appreciate that. We also have quite a few tourists, and it’s lovely because they come for the experience and to know about Jamaica and our food.
LTC: How do you feel about your restaurant being voted the Caribbean’s best?
Miss T: I’m a go-getter, and if I’m doing something and I can’t do it 110 per cent, then I don’t want to do it at all — so I’m always thinking of being number one in every way. Being number one in the Caribbean and just doing it for Jamaica makes me so proud. When I found out I sent a message to my team and I just couldn’t stop crying. I have an amazing team and we’re like family, and there are people around me who support always — especially my customers who give me feedback when I need it.
I try my best to do 110 per cent. What helps me to become better is when there are people who are honest and care enough to give feedback.
LTC: What’s next for you and Miss T’s?
Miss T: I already have an extension of Miss T’s in Murphy Hill — Miss T’s on the Hill — with an amazing view. When you visit it’s almost like you’re sitting on top of the north coast. Then I’d like to get a nice piece on the water so that would be Miss T’s by the Water. But the main thing is to leave a legacy for Jamaica, which is my recipe book, so when anyone opens that they must taste Jamaica and realise the passion I have for Jamaican culture.
Text, video & photos: Akera Davis