VIDEO: Son of the soil rocks Europe
Brown, 39, has catered to a list of international celebrities such as Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons and Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child fame, serving Jamaican dishes from his London restaurant — Chef Collin Brown.
His award list is enviable; he has copped two AA rosettes, with his east London eatery widely regarded as the premier spot for Caribbean food in the UK.
"I am the only Caribbean chef in the entire world who has two AA rosettes," he proudly states. Earning a third AA rosette will place the Jamaican chef at the pinnacle of the international food industry with the possibility of a Michelin star.
The rosette award is a UK-based rating system, with two rosettes indicating innovation, great technical skill, consistency and judgement in combining and balancing ingredients.
Three rosettes, however, take a restaurant into the big league and expectations of the kitchen are high and exacting. "Once you receive a Michelin star, your value can increase by millions of pounds in two weeks," says Brown.
And, he adds that just last November he received a United Nations award as 'culinary counsellor'.
However, with all the accolades Brown insists he has remained humble and fully cognisant of his Jamaican roots. "I am intensely patriotic," he insists as he ventures into his life story.
"I am a simple country boy preparing Jamaican food," the renowned chef told foodies at yesterday's Jamaica Observer Food Awards seminar at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston. His fare sticks closely to Jamaican tradition — ackee and saltfish, mackerel rundown, rice and peas and oxtail are ever present on his menu — attracting clientele the world over.
But it was his grandmother's wise counsel which forced Brown into the kitchen at age eight to prepare meals for the family, that set the ball rolling. "It was a chore then, but it became a way of life," he says.
Actually, early life was somewhat uncertain for Brown as he struggled to find his footing. "I even tried driving a taxi," he says. "I tried a lot of things. When we were growing up, we didn't take anything too seriously," shares Brown, the first boy of six children.
"But no matter what I did, it always came back to cooking."
In his search Brown even deliberately flunked courses pushed on him by his grandmother who early on recognised his talent.
However, seeing his promise she persisted and linked the youngster to the La Roose club in Portmore, St Catherine, as an apprentice at the once popular food spot.
"My granny always say every man must learn a trade," shares Brown. "It was like going abroad, coming from the deep country to Portmore."
He adds that the experience at La Roose is now incorporated at his London restaurant.
A strong work ethic and a drive to succeed has been the underlying push for the 'country boy' as he sought to fulfil his dream.
Moving to The Cayman Islands, Brown says he worked 19 hours per day and was able to save a fair amount of cash. "When you work so many hours you are forced to save money, because you have no time to spend it," he says. "I worked 19 hours and slept five."
Arriving in Britain, though, was a rude awakening for the ambitious chef. He could not get a job. After searching, being turned down countless times and doing odd jobs, he finally realised that "if you want to work in a London restaurant you'll have to own it". So he set about doing just that. "It wasn't easy," Brown says. Working from a single room, that alternated between sleeping area and kitchen, he sought clientele. Delivering cupcakes on consignment, saying yes to almost every request for a
catering job — small stove, large pot — he stuck to the task.
And throughout all his exploits his "granny's" words have always been his guide.
"I now cook for the most fabulous people in the world, but I would do anything to have my grandmother see it," he remarks. "We were close, very close."
As part of giving back, Brown has a passion to expose aspiring chefs in Jamaica and have them look beyond simply getting a job to establishing a name and viable business here and importantly, overseas.