BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor - special assignment email@example.com
OWEN Malcolm is known around the St Mary capital for his tasty, low-budget meals, but it's the mobile cookshop he built himself that draws his most ardent admirers.
The structure, made from board and zinc, sits on a handcart with an extended chassis and is painted in the black, green and gold of the Jamaican flag. Dubbed "Hot Press", it is big enough to hold a large four-burner gas stove, a table, and other necessities. Malcolm is able to stand comfortably inside while he cooks and serves to his growing customer base.
A bucket with a faucet contraption allows him to keep the roadside eatery clean.
"Mi very big on cleanliness and so mi mek sure say everything clean up nicely," he said.
Malcolm, who hails from Islington in the parish, told the Jamaica Observer North East that it took him an entire month to build and paint the mobile restaurant. He said he got the idea to construct it after quitting his job at a catering company.
"Bwoy, mi get tired ah working dere so. Mi just decide seh a time fi venture out on mi own," he said as he set about preparing the day's meal of baked chicken and rice and peas.
According to Malcolm, he started out about eight years ago with a home-made jerk pan mounted on wheels with which he would travel throughout the bustling commercial district at night selling jerk chicken, chicken back, chicken neck and chicken foot.
However, when thieves started making off with the pans, Malcolm was forced to come up with a 'Plan B' and decided to build a bigger, more sturdy structure. But he was unprepared for the swift increase in the number of customers, so he had to step up his game. This time, he built an even larger structure, with the intention of expanding his business to the resort town of Ocho Rios which has a more vibrant nightlife.
Given the harsh financial times, Malcolm has priced his meals, such as roti and jerk chicken back, for as little as $100.
"People love di idea dat if dem nuh have nuh whole heap ah money dem can still come and get something fi eat an as ah matter ah fact, whatever dem have, dem can get something fi it," he told the Observer North East.
His roti and pumpkin talkari dishes are also a big hit. Malcolm said he learnt the art of making the Indian dish from the couple who fostered him, as he grew up not knowing his parents.
"Mi love fi cook from mi likkle bit, and the foster people who me grow up wid were Indians and so dat is how mi learn how fi mek roti and tings like dat," he said.
The chef, who finds it more feasible to sell at night, said the reason most of his meals consist of chicken back is because it is affordable and versatile.
"Mi do a lot ah chicken back because mi can jerk it, brown stew it, curry it, and fry it," he said, adding that "jerk chicken back is the most-sought after dish because it gives a nicer flavour than even jerk chicken".
He is usually out plying his trade from 7:00 pm until about 4:00 am. After only a few hours' sleep, he is up by 7:00 am to start the day's routine of purchasing the items for the day's menu and seasoning the meat.
"Bwoy, mi hardly get no time fi rest, but mi know seh rest time will come after mi mek something ah miself," he said, with a confident smile.
His dream is to expand his business to the point where he will be able to transport his mobile cookshop all over the island, particularly to the yearly reggae stage show Sting. Until then, he is pooling his resources to be able to take the business to Ocho Rios by sometime next month.
"I really want to go to dat town because Ochi Rios nuh lock ah night time, an and ah dey so mi business woulda really tek off," he said.