Jamaica’s culinary goodness is potentially another one of its greatest assets, and Memorial Day Weekend Atlanta Black Star joined Visit Jamaica — guided by native Jamaican Lyndon Taylor — as part of a group of foodie writers and bloggers for a sneak peek as to why. The revelry started in Kingston on Wednesday, May 28, where we stayed at the iconic Jamaica Pegasus Hotel where “our” Barack Obama once laid his head as POTUS. Redbones Blues Cafe, which is two decades old, never misses the beat. No live music or poetry that night, but lots of good eats like the Callaloo Strudel and drinks like the Strawberry Bourbon Lemonade, made even better by the ambience.
The next day was a trip up to the famed Blue Mountain region for coffee. We landed at Creighton Estate. The now Japanese-owned coffee producer delivers most of its coffee to Japan these days, but the tour, which includes a hike, a coffee tutorial and, of course, the coffee, proves that the Japanese have good taste in coffee.
From there we traveled to Belcour Lodge for lunch courtesy of Robin Lim Lumsden, whose heritage is Chinese and Irish, among other things. Fittingly, Jamaica’s national motto is “out of many, one people.” Her husband Martin Lumsden led a brief tour of the lovely property before lunch, which was divine. Robin’s fried chicken enhanced by various sauces and spices that combine her unique heritage in Jamaica was particularly spectacular. Her dish with the Jamaican staple breadfruit was pretty good as well. As for a drink of sorrel and rum, how can you go wrong?
Later, back at the Pegasus, we discussed Jamaica’s culinary heritage and current foodie status with Michelle Gordon, editor in chief of the food magazine Indulge, and caterers the Rousseau Sisters, Michelle and Suzanne, who are pioneers of the evolving culinary scene in Kingston, the nation’s heartbeat. They discussed the future and gave us a crash course on recent Jamaican culinary history, highlighting the impact of celebrated chef Norma Shirley, who was even integral to the opening of Redbones. It turned out to be a perfect setup for the night.
At the 19th Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards at Devon House Estate, the historic home of Jamaica’s first Black millionaire George Steibel, it was pure foodie heaven once all the awards were given out. The estate was full of food and drink options. Food was everywhere. In addition to sampling the winners, unsuspecting booths like Nestle wowed with jerk chicken pasta. There was chicken salad, jerk chicken, quinoa salad with pineapple, lobster thermidor, countless desserts, specialty cocktails and more. It was a festive environment and a fashion show! Never let anyone tell you that Jamaicans don’t know how to dress! And, of course, there was music!
The next day started with the Peter Tosh Museum, which opened in late 2016. Tosh, both while together with his cohorts Bob Marley and Bunny Wailer as well as solo, blazed new trails for Jamaica in music. A rebel to the core, Tosh demanded the legalization of marijuana, even penning the hit “Legalize It” to drive home his point. His tragic death as a victim of an amateur robbery attempt in 1987 was a tremendous blow, but his legacy, as this quaint museum attests, will never die.
Preparations for the Patty Off took over after the museum visit, with stops made to the nation’s leading patty authorities — Juici, Mother’s, Sugar & Spice, and Tastee. Once the patties were gathered it was off to Devon House for ice cream, a treat National Geographic has deemed one of the ten best in the world. After ice cream, the Patty Off was on, with Juici winning for some, Tastee and Mother’s for others. Sugar & Spice was good but somehow didn’t land the highest honors. Judging by the traffic in all the shops though, they are all winners.
Our Kingston food affair ended right there at Devon House. It was Ocho Rios’ turn to woo our taste buds. Thanks to a new road, it was a relatively quick and picturesque trip. At the gorgeous Moon Palace there was just enough time to drop off our bags in our lovely rooms. From there it was off to Stush in the Bush, the organic farm-to-table experience in Free Hill. Along the way, we spied the Puddin Man and had to stop.
The Puddin Man’s “puddin” is perfected through the use of hot coals. While it may get hot, it never disappoints, as his pudding is regarded as the best around. From there, we made the trek into the hills of Ocho Rios to Free Hill. Since Stush in the Bush is a private, appointment-only experience, there is no dropping in. Whatsoever. And we saw exactly why.
Once Chris, the chief farmer of the operation, scooped us in his pickup truck and we trekked up a road we arrived at an oasis. We were greeted by his wife and head chef Lisa, along with appetizers and libations. When dinner was served it featured one of the tastiest gourmet veggie pizzas to be found anywhere. From the first bite, it was more than clear how fresh these veggies were, plus the flavors were like none other. And the passionfruit beignets were a delectably sweet ending. The wine and tea weren’t bad either.
On our final day of culinary goodness, Miss T’s Kitchen served up classic Jamaican cooking. Renowned for its oxtails, Miss T did not disappoint. Plantains, rice and peas, fish, you name it, Jamaican style. And the setting was quite delightful as well. The Bob Marley corner was particularly impressive.
For the trip finale, we went back to the Moon Palace to rest up for our outing to Hermosa Cove to feast with Chef Conroy Arnold, who oversees The Broken Rudder Bar & Grill and Christophers there. And feast is indeed the right word. Chef Conroy makes his own sausage and prepares his own meats. His sauces are also noteworthy. They definitely enhanced the already incredible flavors of his meats. As a bonus, Moon Palace Executive Chef Dennis McIntosh, who also heads the Culinary Federation of Jamaica, dropped by to talk about how he and other chefs are empowering younger people to take Jamaican cuisine to new heights.
Later that night I was able to chat with one of the young chefs at Pier 8, the seafood restaurant at Moon Palace. I arrived at the restaurant rather late because I had already eaten far too much, but I still I wanted to have a bite from our host hotel, and we were scheduled to leave at 5 — yes, 5 — in the morning. I chose the flounder and crab cakes. Thankfully, they were all small portions, and I loved dining by the water. The young chef, whose name escapes me, was very excited about his future and spoke of the impact Chef McIntosh had made in his life, which was sealed with a recent promotion.
The next morning was beautiful despite the early call time. Moon Palace was especially quiet. And outside the sun truly showed its favor over Jamaica. The drive back to Kingston was good, even if there were more than a few understandable dozing off sessions. At the airport I was able to step into Club Kingston for a few minutes to grab a fish patty and a cup of tea. I also grabbed the Sunday edition of the Jamaica Observer and later learned that our crew had a red carpet photo in one of the special Food Awards inserts.
Before now Jamaica was known as a great fun-in-the-sun destination as well as a fantastic spot for reggae music lovers. Now it’s also a promising foodie destination.