Chef Shea for Grace Kitchens

Chef Shea for Grace Kitchens

Chef Shea Stewart Continues the Enduring Legacy of Grace Kitchens

Thursday, February 20, 2020

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Every Jamaican has a specific relationship with Grace. There are products from the brand's repertoire that many of us would find difficult to live without. Whether it's mackerel in tomato sauce that has saved many a Saturday morning (hangover) breakfast, strategically placed packages of cock soup to appease relatives without raising suspicion from 'foreign' customs, or evenings spent sipping Roma cocoa before bed, we all have our favourites. Frankly speaking, for many families Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a Grace ham. And let's face it, you don't have to be brand loyal to admit that Grace Kitchens has influenced the way we have eaten for the past 50 years.

Mazie Miller, the host of Creative Cooking, Grace Kitchens' televised cooking show, challenged the way we looked at foods like the humble tin of Vienna sausages. Her inventive recipes — who can forget the infamous mackerel pizza on cornmeal crust? — elevated both our native and beloved ingredients. As Grace Kitchens' executive chef for over 20 years, the Culinary Institute of America graduate, affectionally called Auntie Mazie, helped to make Grace a household name throughout the Jamaican diaspora.

Miller retired in 2015, but her legacy endureth forever. Under the leadership of Angella Grandison-Reid, consumer services manager, Grace Kitchens; and Executive Chef Karl Thomas, who in 2011 won the Grace Kitchens Invitational Chefs' Challenge, and in 2012 served as Head Chef for the Jamaican delegation at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, took on the task of continuing Grace Kitchens' impact. However, it's the dawn of a new day at Grace Kitchens, and its future is now in the hands of an accomplished young chef.

On Monday, February 10, Grace Kitchens hosted an intimate dinner at The Porch restaurant to announce new Executive Chef Shea Stewart. Speaking to Thursday Food about handing the reins of the brand's kitchen, recipe development and cooking demonstrations to Stewart, GraceKennedy Foods & Services Limited Channel Programmes and Promotions Manager Ricardo Smith noted that the brand wanted a chef who could resonate with millennials and could impart personal 'flavour' on the Grace Foods brand while maintaining its integrity and sterling legacy. Tamara Thompson, general manager, GraceKennedy Foods & Services Limited and Consumer Brands, as well as Grandison-Reid, endorsed the sentiment.

Grandison-Reid added, “As a family brand, Grace Kitchens has been bringing the taste of our brand to hearth and home, with the expert touch of our executive chefs. We are happy to partner with Chef Stewart, as he is excellent at what he does. His professionalism, attention to detail, innovation, consistency and the quality of his output align perfectly with Grace's core values. As the good food people, we are confident that Chef Stewart will deliver that 'good touch' in the preparation of our love-filled recipes.” Taking Monday's dinner as an indicia of what to expect from Chef Stewart, it can be said that the brand made the right decision.

The four-course meal saw Stewart use basic Grace ingredients to create a stellar meal which was paired, naturally, with wines from the Harbour Wines & Spirits portfolio. The appetiser course of roasted corn chowder with bacon, cilantro, and Scotch bonnet oil (paired with Mixtus Argentinian Chardonnay) saw Stewart perform what can only be described as sorcery on tins of Grace whole kernel corn, Anchor cream and Grace bacon.

The second course was crispy pork belly with Asian slaw and chilli-ginger caramel sauce. Yes, the perfectly cooked pork belly was the star, but there in the background was Grace jerk seasoning that was used to create the marinade. This was paired with Ménage à Trois Wines' Luscious Pinot Noir. The wine's predominant black cherry and raspberry notes played beautifully with the natural sweetness of the pork and the slaw's chilli-ginger caramel sauce. The pinot noir's kiss of dark chocolate that titillatingly lingered on the palate, woke up the dish's nuanced earthiness and together created an almost molé-like flavour profile.

Next up was coriander-spiced broiled snapper (caught that morning) with smashed chickpea dal. The dish made Grace Foods ambassador Ding Dong announce, “Dis a nuh food, dis a cuisine!” After that declaration, what could Thursday Food really add? Stewart used Grace chickpeas to make his interpretation of dal (which is usually made with lentils), and the nutty, creamy flavour of the chickpeas was a delicious accompaniment to the snapper that was executed flawlessly. Expertly handling fish is the hallmark of a good chef. The course was paired with an unoaked Washington Chardonnay (good choice) from Two Vines Winery.

The meal ended with cake and ice cream — vanilla cream cake topped with fresh raspberries, served with coffee gelato, salted pistachios and raspberry coulis. Of course, dessert calls for a riesling and the Chateau Ste Michelle, too, from Washington was an excellent choice. The dry riesling's crisp acidity and bright citrus flavour paired wonderfully with the raspberries and rich vanilla sponge. Leave it to Stewart to skip the customary end-of-meal espresso by replacing it with coffee ice cream. Cheeky, and brilliant.

The leadership of GraceKennedy Foods & Services Limited was thoughtful in its decision and with Chef Stewart's appointment as Grace Kitchens' executive chef, ensuring the continuation of a brand legacy that is, in a word, sacred. Thursday Food prognosticates that Chef Stewart will excel in this role — he has earned his place on the wall alongside Auntie Mazie. Well done, sir.

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