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Of Jerk, Jerks & More Jerk

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Lonely Planet released its newest travel guide — Ultimate Eatlist — last week. The bucket list of “the 500 best dishes to eat on the planet” has eating jerk chicken in Jamaica at number 15. The only other North American experience to make the top 20 is beef brisket in Texas at number four. Amazing!

According to the publishers, “The inextricable link between food and travel is so fascinating (not to mention, delicious!) that we set our community of bloggers, writers and staff the task of trawling the planet for epic foodie adventures.” This community also includes some of the world's top chefs, who ranked the 500-item list of “pilgrimage-worthy” dishes.

At the top of the list is pintxos in San Sebastián, Spain. Others include bibimbap in Seoul, South Korea (eighth); ceviche in Peru (11th); cheese experiences in France (14th); chilli crab in Singapore (17th); and pho on the Hau River, Vietnam (20th). Who woulda thunk that Jamaican jerk chicken would ever beat French cheeses on a list of things to eat?

One international chef has landed in hot water for attempting to capitalise on jerk's popularity and fame.

Jamie Oliver recently released his newest ready-to-eat product — “punchy jerk rice”. As the Brits say, “This is not on.”

In a tweet on August 18, Dawn Butler, the MP for Brent Central in north-west London and the Labour Party's shadow women and equalities minister, accused Oliver of cultural appropriation. The Fiddes Payne-manufactured product retails for approximately £2.30 at Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Waitrose locations across the UK. Butler, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, opined, “Do you know what Jamaican jerk actually is? It's not just a word you put before stuff to sell products… This appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop.”

Back in 2011 Jamaican-born chef Levi Roots showed Oliver how to make authentic jerk on Oliver's Channel 4 show Jamie Does Summer. On Monday, August 20, Roots appeared on ITV's Good Morning Britain to discuss the controversy surrounding the product. Roots considers the “punchy jerk rice” (it pains Thursday Food to even type that phrase) a “mistake by Jamie, either by him or his team”.

The product lists red jalapeño peppers, aubergine (eggplant) and lemon juice as a part of its ingredients. Nowhere is Scotch bonnet, pimento and escallion to be seen. Nowhere. And this is not Oliver's first time being accused of cultural appropriation.

In 2014 the ire of millions of West Africans was directed at the chef when he posted a Jollof rice recipe on his website. The fracas dubbed 'Jollofgate' saw Oliver instructing home cooks to add coriander, parsley and lemon to the dish. None of those ingredients is associated with Jollof rice. Jollofgate resulted in one Twitter user declaring, “Our plates will not be colonised.” Soon after, Oliver's 'people' released a statement saying that the counterfeit Jollof was simply “Jamie's twist”. Cue side eye.

Let's see how he responds to part two of his rice-related drama.

Thursday Food sees this as a brilliant opportunity, however, for our chefs to offer Jerk master classes to their international peers either here on The Rock or at Le Cordon Bleu London/Paris, wherever — yes, authentic certification!