A Taste of the Future

Thursday, June 05, 2014

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He has been branded the Jamie Oliver of Jamaica by the New York Times, has amassed thousands of followers on social media sites such as Twitter and Instagram, and has already garnered a legion of accolades. Thursday Life sits down with the man behind the fame to get his take on his own celebrity and on the culinary landscape for young chefs like himself.

The mild-mannered Lumley

From the way he talks, one might be fooled into thinking Brian Lumley wasn't the hottest name on the Jamaican culinary scene right now. Fresh off his wins from the Jamaica Observer Food Awards for Food Personality of the Year and the Online Award, he speaks of feeling humbled.

"There was a sense of appreciation to have someone out there appreciate you," he tells Thursday Life. "You want people to feel passionate about what you do."

And passionate they certainly are, for Lumley is not unused to acclaim. In fact, he's a two-time winner of the coveted Taste of Jamaica's Chef of the Year Award (2008 and 2012); the Jamaica Observer Food Awards chef-on-the-rise winner in 2012, and, very significantly, the Caribbean Chef of the Year at the Taste of the Caribbean's regional showcase in 2013. And he's achieved all this while still under 30.

Indeed, the fact of his age has become as much of a headliner as the man himself — so much accomplished at such a young age. With his meteoric rise also came the inevitable pressures to justify it.

The social media revolution

In September of last year, Lumley opened his restaurant — 689 by Brian Lumley — to feverish anticipation, but the reception was decidedly cool. While some praised him for his undoubted talents as a chef, others felt the menu's offerings weren't up to par with the Brian Lumley name.

"A lot of people expected more because of what they know of me," he says.

However, the experience hardly dampened his enthusiasm for delivering on his mandate to create fresh, inventive meals from local ingredients.

"I can't say I was disappointed. I felt more understanding. I listened to my customers."

That is no understatement. Lumley actively invites feedback from his patrons and the wider foodie community via his accounts on such social media websites as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. A recent Facebook posting, for example, invited feedback on a new menu item — Cajun salmon with watermelon chutney. And although it is Lumley's passion for tinkering with the alchemy of foods that drives his fantastic creations, he does admit that feedback he's received from the social media community has contributed to the evolution of his menu. And this evolution, he says, is fundamental to the continued growth of '689'.

Croquettes, anyone?

Along with growing savvier on the business end of being a restaurant owner, Lumley has also grown more confident in stepping outside the box with his culinary creations.

"I moved forward by wanting to put interesting things on the menu," he tells us. "How can you challenge yourself by cooking curried goat?"

It was an understanding of Jamaicans' fondness for traditional dishes that almost caused a croquette dish, for instance, to fall by the wayside. But earnest pleas from some of his online followers convinced him to keep it on. Occasionally posting dishes also allows Lumley to make a few tweaks based on the feedback he gets from his audience. Hence, social media's power in allowing the chef more power in presenting to consumers a meal that feels more personal. It strips away the anonymity that has long defined the relationship between patron and chef.

"You put it out there," he says, "and people will always have an opinion."

Very true. And that opinion can sometimes be dangerous, particularly given social media's knack for spreading harmful news to potential millions within a matter of hours — a double-edged sword that Lumley acknowledges.

"Nowadays, one post from Twitter can destroy your career."

But he asserts that his social media experience has mostly been for the good.

"The people who have good things to say outweigh the bad."

He's excited by the prospect of younger chefs like himself taking to these social media sites to connect with their patrons. "The kids," as he calls himself and his peers, "are all online." The growth of awareness between chef and patron is all for the good, according to Lumley. The dining experience feels more intimate, more enhanced.

And thanks to social media, he assures us that "by 2020, you will have known many more chefs".

— Kedon Willis






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