THERE has been lots of talk during this 50th year of Independence about 'Brand Jamaica' and the pride we have in the country. It is well known that Jamaicans overseas still maintain strong pride in the country; wearing the colours often, flags in the cars, wearing clothes and much more. We see jerk festivals all over — the one in South Florida attracting more than 15,000 patrons.
'Brand Jamaica' has both positive and negative aspects abroad. The positives include our music, friendly people, sun, sand, and food. The negatives include crime and corruption. Jamaicans overseas are automatically brand ambassadors for good and bad. Some unfortunately have only contributed to tarnishing the good name of the country in the new places they have taken up residence, either legally or illegally, but thankfully the majority of Jamaicans have actually contributed to positive feelings about Jamaica.
Go to any hospital in the New York/New Jersey area and you are guaranteed to hear stories about Jamaican nurses and their work ethic. You hear about how they treat patients and work well with the doctors. The same is true in South Florida. Go anywhere like the UK and ask about our Jamaican teachers. It is in this light that I wish to highlight a lesser known way that overseas Jamaicans are positively supporting Brand Jamaica, through food.
My sister-in-law, Danielle Fiala, is an Immaculate Conception High School graduate who went on to become an engineer with a successful career. Similar to the advice I gave students at Campion College's fifth form and UWI's Young Investors Club about following your passion, she eventually switched to culinary arts and now works at a top class restaurant in Berkeley, California.
She invited my wife (her younger sister), my son Luke and myself to be part of her Jamaica 50 dinner, which she planned with her husband Zane, wine director at Incanto — one of the top restaurants in San Francisco and the designated venue for the dinner.
They put together an amazing set of courses of Jamaican cuisine, followed proper procedure to use the Jamaica 50 logo and co-ordinated to support Deika Morrison's local charity initiative Crayons Count for which I am a diaspora ambassador. The menu included ackee and saltfish, manish water, jerked pork belly, curried lamb and blue mountain coffee custard.
They aimed for 45 people and had more than 60 people attend, mostly Americans. Red Stripe and a variety of wines were served, the servers wore Jamaica T-shirts and the restaurant was decorated with images from Jamaica. The comments at our table from the Americans made me proud as a Jamaican to see people enjoying our indigenous foods, some of which I actually do not eat.
One compliment in particular surprised all of us, including Danielle. It came from her teacher, Linda Carucci, a chef extraordinaire. Chef Carucci is the former director of the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of California, San Francisco; author of Cooking School Secrets for Real World Chefs and was honoured as a finalist for the James Beard Cookbook Award and for the International Association of Culinary Professionals Julia Child's First Book Award. She knows her food.
She said that it was one of the best dining experiences she has had since she can remember, the curried lamb was perfect with the rice and peas, the others at her table loved every course, and she now cannot wait to go to Jamaica. Danielle and Zane were also able to raise US$1,500 to send to the Crayons Count initiative in Jamaica, supporting early childhood education.
Our food is part of Brand Jamaica and each time we invite people over for dinner, launch a restaurant, bring Jamaican food to a pot luck dinner or do something like take over a restaurant for a night we are contributing to a positive Brand Jamaica.
As a proud Jamaican I must thank everyone around the world promoting Jamaica positively in their respective endeavours and in this 50th year of Independence I will just say keep it up. Jamaica needs every positive story it can get right now.
David Mullings is president and CEO of Keystone Augusta and was the first Future Leaders representative for the USA on the Jamaican Diaspora Advisory Board. He can be found at facebook.com/InteractiveDialogue and Twitter.com/davidmullings