An interview with owner of ‘Three Little Birds’ restaurant, April Jackson.
Inspired by the many flavours experienced on our ocean cruises, over the next four weeks we’ll be talking to foodies and culinary connoisseurs of Jamaica, Thailand, Costa Rica and Italy to give us a taste of traditional cooking in their homes. This week, we sat down with former Miss Jamaica, restauranteur and Apprentice contestant, April Jackson.
Hi April, where did your love of Jamaican food start?
I was born in London, but raised in Jamaica. A few years ago, I started an events company called Savour Jamaica. We brought world renowned chefs to the island for elaborate and innovative banquets. The idea was for an international chef to use Jamaican ingredients and therefore see our own ingredients in a new way. The first one was with the well known chef, Scott Halsworth. At the time, he was the head chef of Nobu in Australia. I brought him to Montego Bay, which at the time didn’t have a Japanese restaurant, let alone a Nobu standard Japanese restaurant. We put on a spread for 130 people with 9 courses and wine pairings.
How did you restaurant, Three Little Birds, come about?
I came back to England last February to be on The Apprentice with the goal of starting this restaurant. Three Little Birds was up and running before my last episode aired.
What is your philosophy for cooking?
I don’t make your other’s version.We take the same ingredients that I grew up with, but serve the dish in a contemporary way and mix it with flavours inspired by my travels. At the minute, because its winter in London, we’ve tried to unite British comfort food with the bright and colourful flavours of the Caribbean.
How would you describe traditional Jamaican cooking?
Jamaican food is quite heavy, it’s a lot of rice and meat. At the moment, we have a dish called,’Oxtail Shepherd’s Pie’. We cook the oxtail as you would traditionally and then take it off the bone and instead of having mince, we use that as the base of the dish.
I love to combine flavours in that way. It’s interesting because the seasoning and flavouring is so Asian inspired, aside from the scotch bonnet pepper
That’s interesting, so it’s more than just an Anglo-Caribbean influence?
I think many people think of Jamaica as a nation of black people, but our motto ‘ Out of many, one people’ speaks for itself and we can see it in the food. Curried goat has an indian influence. Jerk is of African influence. People forget how much Jamaican food takes from other cultures.
What is your taste of home?
My Dad could only cook four things, but he does them very well. One of them in steamed fish. In Jamaica we eat a lot of snapper or parrotfish, steamed with carrots and onions and okra. It’s served with bammy, which is cassava bashed into a fine flour and then made into a mini flat bread. At home it’s quite common to have a helper around the house and my helper would always cook fried chicken every day. I think I started cooking because i got bored of my helper’s food.
Is it difficult to get proper, authentic Jamaican food in the UK?
I will bet my life that nowhere in England serves real jerk chicken. We don’t have it on the menu at Three Little Birds, instead we’ll describe something as ‘jerk seasoned’. People in the UK think the jerk is just the marinade and you just put in the oven. The real process requires the meat to be cooked over pimento wood or sweet wood. That’s what gives you that smokey flavour. Usually, you will put corrugated iron on top. The weight of the zinc on top of the meat gives it that bubbly, crackling skin. Jerk is amiss in this country- everyone should go to Portland and Boston Bay where jerk originated. They have beautiful beaches there too, so you can have your authentic jerk and enjoy it by the sea.
Is there one food you miss the most?
Portmore, just outside of Kingston is home to the best fried fish and festival ( a sweet dumpling made from cornmeal) you will ever have in your life. You buy it from huts along the beach. It’s very rustic and you pick your own fish. I always pick the biggest one, because you never know when you’re going to be back there. I don’t often eat fried food but this is the exception.
What is a traditional tipple in Jamaica?
A traditional drink in Jamaica is anything with rum. Guinness is also a huge part of Jamaican culture. For years I thought it was from Jamaica because everyone drinks it. A lot of the time, it will be made as a thick and creamy punch.
To bring a bit of the island to your after dinner coffee, try April’s recipe for ‘Jamaican Coffee’.
- 25 mls vanilla syrup
- 35 mls Captain Morgan Spiced
- 1 Americano
- 75mls double cream
- Make an Americano, add rum and vanilla syrup to glass or cup.
- Dry shake cream and top up coffee.