Jamaican dentist takes a culinary detour | Food
Jamaican student Andre James began his studies at the University of the West Indies before accepting a scholarship to pursue studies in Brazil, with the main aim of practicing dentistry. He earned his medical degree, but after spending more than a decade in the country, he fell in love with the unique culture and decided he was here to stay. Deliberating on a business that would capture the local market, he saw a business opportunity to specialize in Caribbean experiences. Today, James is the proud founder of Jerky’s: Cozinha Caribenha.
The restaurant’s menu takes a simple approach – Jerky’s serves jerk chicken exclusively, with an array of sides. “I’m in the city of São Paulo, and jerk chicken was just something easy to explain. There’s a big barbecue culture here in Brazil, so this dish translated well with them because jerk chicken is Jamaican BBQ. For sides we have rice and peas, ripe plantains, jerk fries, fried sweet potatoes, macaroni salad and premium coleslaw,” James said. Food, adding: “We are not fine food, and we are not street food; we are fast and relaxed.
After opening in 2020, the team had to accelerate services to a delivery model as the country was then in lockdown. The experience of the pandemic for him was bittersweet in that it delayed the initial excitement surrounding the launch, a project underway from 2018. He and his team took to the streets, sharing a taste of what the Caribbean had to offer. The goal was to hire a Jamaican chef to work in the restaurant, but those plans fell through with the emergence of COVID-19.
Jamaica is synonymous with jerk, and the smoky goodness can be found in variety in every nook and cranny of the island. Being born and raised on these verdant shores, James is well aware of this. But living abroad for several years, he also learned a thing or two about Brazilians. Already establishing that they love barbecue, they also love chicken, so jerk chicken was a win-win in his book. Where they differed significantly was presentation, a key factor that would determine its effectiveness in the market. “Do you know how in Jamaica jerk chicken is served minced? It wouldn’t be recognizable to your typical Brazilian, and so there was no way he would buy into it. The dish is currently served in uncut halves or wedges,” he explained.
Plus, the food entrepreneur put the authentic taste to the test, looking to see how it would react to the island spices. As expected, it was too hot to handle and had to be tempered to suit the discerning taste of its clientele. Yes, the island’s herbs and spices are still active ingredients, but the businessman has stepped into the recipe development department.
He was able to get feedback from regular customers and make the necessary adjustments to deliver a flavor that appealed to his customers’ taste buds without being too overwhelming, making the restaurant a cultural integration of the Caribbean and Brazil.
With the lifting of restrictions, the reception so far has been good. Foodies can now dine in pastel shades and experience the vibrant island vibe and flavors. James is also looking to the future.
“I hope to develop the restaurant as a franchise and open many locations throughout Brazil. But for now, we are bringing this new experience to the market, with the hope that people will love the jerk,” he said. -he adds.