Decades of Culinary Tradition @ The Blue House. Plus a surprise discovery!


Decades of Culinary Tradition @ The Blue House. Plus a surprise discovery!

Thursday, August 13, 2020

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It's an easy, breezy Sunday drive and an even easier address to find. It's a Blue House across the road from Sans Souci. The neighbours call the area White River Estate.

As we make our way up the steep incline, the hundreds (we kid you not) of orchid blooms that frame the entrance of the picture-perfect Blue House Boutique Bed & Breakfast stop us in our tracks. Our fascination is only interrupted by the welcome of our host Elise Yap.

Soon we are on the second level, comfortably seated after a tour of the well-appointed rooms, sipping fruit punch and listening to the amazing story of faith, resilience, family, dynamics and success!

A real estate career, a request for accommodation for a chef, a friend's visit from Toronto led Yap to pursue the “crazy idea” of starting a B&B. “Back in 2005, the concept of B&Bs hadn't really evolved,” she tells Thursday Food. Ready or not, a request from Fay, a woman Yap had met a year earlier, would turn her not-quite-completed business plan into a reality. Her requested stay date was Emancipation weekend 2005. With every hotel fully booked, Fay and family became Yap's first guests. Suffice to say, she's not looked back!

The cosy property with bedrooms that appear prescribed for room service, well-appointed ensuite bathrooms and comfy living room areas prompt the question of what's on the menu? The Blue House is after all in a tony neighbourhood, so unless you plan to drive out every time a hunger pang hits... Yap's response is, Our father Richard, had a God-given gift for cooking... him hand did well sweet... well sweet. I inherited the gift, as did my younger brother, Darryl [aka the 'Barefoot Chef']. Our Chinese grandmother, our PoPo, stayed home with us while our parents went out to jobs. PoPo cooked for the family, so we grew up only eating Chinese food. My two siblings and I did not discover Jamaican food until about the age of six, eight when we would visit school friend's homes. It was love at first bite” she continues, “Nobody taught us how to cook Jamaican food. We ate it, went home and experimented until we got the taste right. We still do that today when we eat 'new' foods for the first time, like Greek and Italian, which are our favourites.”

A family secret; indeed, a national secret is that Yap's dad Richard not only created the first drum pan, but he also cooked fusion cuisine long before the term was coined. “Mas Richie combined Chinese seasonings with the distinct local flavours of thyme, pimento and Scotch bonnet pepper to create Chinese-Jamaican fusion, crispy skin roast pork that was only available two Sundays each month and sold like hot bread. Darryl and I are proud to carry on our father's tradition of creating new fusion dishes that we reference as nouvelle Jamaican cuisine, like pepperpot soup with shrimp, pot-roasted chicken with lime, and thyme and shrimp rundown.

Indeed, the mouth-watering fare created by Darryl, who has no formal training, and is a fusion of Jamaican, Chinese and international cuisine ingredients and techniques, keeps the overseas clientele churning out rave reviews. The Blue House has over 500 five-star excellent online reviews and is highly rated in Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, Frommer's, Fodor's, Moon Jamaica as well as other notable guide books.

Darryl's food philosophy in keeping with current norms is to use the freshest local ingredients, as well as organic, as much as possible. His must-have ingredients are garlic, rum, Tia Maria and Scotch bonnet peppers.

The Barefoot Chef's signature no-menu breakfasts and dinners are specially curated every week based on in-house requests and willingness to try new foods. His weekly no-menu meals feature traditional favourites like ackee and salt fish, mackerel rundown, fricassee chicken, oxtail, escoveitch fish and curried goat as too, Darryl's renowned cassava pancakes smothered with flambeed caramelised bananas and nuts in a rich syrup, his shrimp rundown, and the occasional Chinese or Italian Night thrown in for good measure.

Vegetarians are not left out as the Barefoot Chef whips up memorable vegan or vegetarian versions of whatever meat dishes he's putting on the table. The vegan oxtail is an absolute must-try. As an aside, the chef who once declared, “Cooks don't bake!” whipped up a decadent chocolate cake infused with brewed Blue Mountain Coffee and smothered in a Tia Maria mocha mousse.

Incredibly, the more at Blue House is having Darryl host breakfast and Elise, dinner. That's the final secret ingredient: laughter, childhood tales, snippets of local culture sprinkled with love.

Thursday Food was unable to secure a bottle of Scotch bonnet oil, not even the recipe was divulged. Let's see if we can get them to present it as a Best Product at next year's Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards. Fingers crossed!

Blue House gets our thumbs up for a great Foodie Staycation. It's also ranked in the Top 20 Ochi properties by Trip Advisor. Plus with 25 % off there's no better time to support the industry.

Call Elise Yap: 876- 822-4433 for reservations


The Birth of Drum Pan Chicken


As told to Thursday Food by Elise Yap

When I was about 10, in 1966, my cousin Jimmy, who was 11 and who was adopted by my parents at one year old, and I were tired of being in the minority of children taking sandwiches to school for lunch. We wanted to buy patties and sugar buns like the majority of children. Plus, we wanted pocket money! I knew my parents could not afford it so I got creative.

One Friday evening, bold as brass, without parental permission, Jimmy, who was almost 12, and I took my father's homemade hibachi to the back of mum's bar [Yap's mum Gloria owned a family-type bar in Harbour View] to start a business so we could earn money to buy patties and sugar buns. I'd bought a couple of chickens earlier, chopped and seasoned them, made seasoned rice and a vinegary cole slaw and had bought some dinner rolls.

We barbecued the chicken and sold dinners to mum's patrons. We sold out that Friday and Saturday night and every week thereafter. People in the neighbourhood and patrons who frequented Harbour View Drive-In would smell the meat grilling and come investigate. Our little business exploded!”

No idle boast! The young entrepreneurs moved from the hibachi to a grill made by their neighbour, Mr Gauntlett, commissioned by their dad. “Gauntlett made a grill the size of an eight-seater dining table. It had three sections: one for pork, one for chicken and the other for steak. Each meat kind required different heat intensities... The result: two kids selling close to 100 dinners every Friday and Saturday night. We earned more than many adults did back then. My entire teen years was an endless stream of barbecuing. The money earned was by that time helping to support the family.”

A fall-out with her father led to her moving out of the family home. Her dad continued the weekend barbecuing. The grill was originally designed with trays for the charcoal that could be lowered or raised as required during the cooking process. Over time, due to the intense heat, the metal trays disintegrated and had to be replaced. The last time they collapsed, her dad looked at the 100 gallon oil drums he'd collected in his backyard and had an eureka moment.

“He fished his small welding plant out,” said Yap, “and fashioned the very first-ever drum pan, then two others. There was one for chicken, one for pork and one for steak. Due to his declining health, Dad hired a young man, Les, to help him cook, as he could no longer undertake the long hours of standing in front of the intense heat to grill the meat.”

Forced to quit the business Les, who lived on Whitehall Avenue near the corner of Red Hills Road, was given one of the drum pans as he needed to keep earning. That area became the mecca of “pan chicken”. Les was never privy to our family's 'secret' barbecue sauce recipe so he splashed dollops of ketchup on his pan chicken that is still an integral part of every pan chicken man's trick of the trade.” The rest is history... A little business born of two kids' desire for patties and sugar buns gave birth to and spawned the roadside “pan chicken” business that has since then proliferated all over Jamaica and spread to many corners of the world.

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