From drum pan to pop-up restaurant to catering service
It's easy to find Caribbean restaurateurs in New York, harder to find ones that have the authentic flavours that the islands are known for. Having beans and rice does not really sound that visually appealing to the average Jamaican roaming the streets of the busy city but to restaurants have been known some attract non-Caribbean nationals with the recipe. Take, for example, Damion's Catering and Grill operating out of Spring Valley area in the state.
The catering service, owned by former Cockburn Gardens resident Damion Smith, is popular for its traditionally all-Jamaican menu. It presents a tantalising menu of jerked chicken, jerked pork, curried goat, oxtail, brown stewed, steamed and escoveitched fish served up with sides such as bammy, festival, roast corn and the one-pot coconut-peppery twist that is rice and peas.
CULINARY MELTING POT
According to Damion Smith, the island is known as a culinary melting pot that draws elements from countries worldwide to create a unique flavour; that is the main reason people from China, Saudi Arabia, India and Africa are satisfied with dishes found on a Jamaican menu.
Damion's Catering and Grill, which placed second in last year's Dish Call at Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival in NY, launched from a single self-made drum pan selling jerked chicken and pork that eventually grew to host a Friday evening pop-up cookout at his home in 2015.
"My friend and I used to build the drums and take them to jerk festivals all over, struggling with issues like the metal handle always breaking," said Smith. "However, compared to back home in Jamaica it was a challenge getting permits to sell food from a roaming drum pan at a park."
The next challenge was gathering the preferred spices like thyme, pimento and scotch bonnet peppers, but now these are sourced from small farms in Florida and Connecticut; then cut up and stored in a freezer.
With farm-fresh pineapples, Smith has been known to make a sauce that his customers are encouraging that he bottle for sale. It is a signature blend of pineapple juice, tomatoes, pimento, organic herbs and spices that when served with any dish adds a tangy yet sweet and spicy boost.
The top sellers from the menu are the steamed fish, jerk chicken and the curried goat, and Smith says the customers are usually individuals with an appreciation for Jamaican or Caribbean food.
Smith expressed that it does not feel like a competition between the catering service and other Caribbean-owned food outlets to make sales in New York, and that it is inspiring to be within the company of other restaurants that started from the ground up in the US. The food outlets placed second in last year's Dish Call at the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival in NY, and will be heading to the eighth annual staging on Sunday, July 22.