Just when you thought you’d had jerk everything, chefs Nina Compton and Andre Fowles decide to throw a curveball that makes you reassess your Jamaican heritage. Compton (and her sous-chef/business partner Levi Raines) and Fowles were once invited to be guest chefs at a fund-raising benefit dinner held at Skylark Negril Beach Resort in support of the Rockhouse Foundation. Good cause, good food….
Chef Nina Compton is at the helm of two New Orleans restaurants: the critically acclaimed Compère Lapin and the Bywater American Bistro which she runs with chef/business partner Levi Raines, her Compère Lapin sous-chef. You can tell that these two chefs work very closely together. Covert glances, pas de deux grace, patience and supportive nods reflect how they’ve built restaurants that have become institutions and some of the best in New Orleans. In March 2018 chef Compton became the first black woman to receive the title of Best Chef: South by the James Beard Foundation.
The almost 50 guests at the event saw, up close, why chef Andre Fowles has won three Chopped titles on the Food Network and was runner-up in the grand championship tournament. His food is as bright and adventurous as he is. There’s an intellectual curiosity that allows him to bring a Jamaican perspective to fine dining techniques.
All three chefs collaborated on the five-course jerk tasting menu that attempted to broaden what is seen as Jamaican cuisine. They succeeded.
The first course of jerk-cured barracuda, papaya and curried carrot purée was extremely appetising. Hard to categorise, and, frankly, we don’t need to, the dish was the lovechild of aburi sushi (slightly torched fish) and a crudo. The second course was an avocado lover’s dream. Creamy wedges of pear were drizzled with peppery buttermilk dressing and punched-up with chicken-fried habanero peppers, crisp celery and herbaceous celery leaves. Who woulda thunk that an avocado Caesar salad was a thing?
The third course was a modern take on ‘Rasta Pasta’. Jerk oxtail ragu with breadfruit gnocchi was brightened with minted breadcrumbs and had even the vegetarians cleaning their plates. True story. The jerk salt-baked whole snapper with notes of pickled ginger was served atop a dasheen purée. Yes, a dasheen purée. Dasheen, known in other parts of the world as taro (you’re welcome), has a lovely purple hue when cooked and pulverised. The purée was earthy and had the perfect glutinous consistency reminiscent of a proper polenta. It was really good. Again, we are coming to realise that many Jamaicans are underutilising local provisions.
Photos: Karl McLarty