Lifestyle

Inside Marianna's Community Kitchen

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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Something feels instantly familiar when you first walk into Marianna's Kitchen. After being warmly greeted and taken through the day's offerings, you still search for clues as to why you feel as if you've been to this place before. Taking in the thoughtful design details, it finally hits you. This is what it must feel like to live inside a copy of Together: Our Community Cookbook (the community cookbook project popularised by Meghan, Duchess of Sussex). For one, everyone's happy; two, there's a successful immigrant story, and three, the beauty of producing food that nourishes the body.

Eight years ago, Marianna Farag, who was born in Greece and is half-Egyptian and half-Syrian with a French passport, first visited Jamaica. She immediately fell in love. Farag subsequently visited seven times, and it was during the last trip that she decided to stay for six months. During that time she started the street art movement Paint Jamaica in downtown Kingston. Farag is all about galvanising the power of community to bring about change, no matter how small. She extended her community involvement by regularly feeding people in her home.

Farag has been vegan for the past five years but notes that in her Middle Eastern household, she never grew up being a heavy meat eater. Her passion for sustainability, dedication to living a healthy lifestyle, and impressive creativity collided to create a welcoming space that is Marianna's Kitchen.

Located in Market Place on Constant Spring Road (between Epican and Usain Bolt's Tracks & Records), Marianna's Kitchen creates innovative vegan dishes six days a week. However, be warned: don't expect to see the same menu options every day! Farag and her team have leaned into the concept of the restaurant being an extension of home, and create different dishes every day. “Vegan cuisine lends to more creativity as there are over 2,000 edible plants and we haven't even begun to use half of them,” said Farag.

It's interesting to note that in the month that Marianna's Kitchen has been opened, there have been customers who have visited three times a week. Every week. Customers have really embraced the restaurant's concept and are open to trying new things.

When Thursday Food visited on the last Saturday of July, Farag was serving brunch. It's something that she plans on doing the last Saturday of each month. At brunch, Farag takes the guesswork out of the customer's hands and serves everything on the menu. Finally, no need to order an extra dish so that you can taste it. Served at brunch were: ripe plantain fritters, rosemary cornbread, a crisp salad, potato gratin, a spiced turmeric caramel, chocolate bread pudding with vegan rum cream, and pumpkin juice.

Each item was excellent! Yes, we can hear you say “but it's not gluten-free!” True, but God doesn't give with both hands. Relax. Farag can adjust the servings of gluten-free items to ensure that her guests are indeed happy and full.

The open concept kitchen gives guests a full view, not only of their food being plated but also of all the fresh vegetables and the slew of spices that Farag uses each week. Take a look at her Instagram stories, where she posts the natural ingredients that she uses in a day. One time the list comprised more than 15 vegetables and herbs.

The ripe plantain fritter was, as you imagined, so delicious and offered a surprising lighter texture than the banana version. The pumpkin juice was light and refreshing and bright with fresh lime juice. The salad lived up to its name and was crisp, herbaceous and doubled as a palate cleanser. The potato gratin was toothsome, and the cornbread deserves its own paragraph.

Farag's cornbread recipe is highly protected, and with one bite you'll see why. For a chef or home cook who is not deft (or heavy-handed), the use of rosemary frequently results in a product that tastes more like soap than food. Rosemary is, however, Farag's best friend. It made the cornbread beautifully floral. The cornbread's crumb too, was appealing, and the overall end result was moreish. Thursday Food took two slices home to go with Saturday soup. They, sadly, did not even make it back to the office on Beechwood Avenue.

Marianna's Kitchen is a breath of fresh air. It almost feels like a misnomer, calling it a restaurant. It is free of the usual restaurant tropes — frenetic movement, agitated staff, and guests hoping to catch the eye of a server to inquire about their orders. What Marianna's feels like is a balm, a refuge and a place to connect with one's community.


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