Stephanie and Martin Kamener know how to keep it culturally kosher in their kitchen. Owners of Mama Blu's Food Co & Kitchen in Melbourne, Australia, their food menu celebrates Chef Stephanie's West Indies roots. Look a little further into the drink options, and it's apparent that it showcases South African-born Martin's innovative ideas. It's hard to find that balance of respect between culture and innovation. But Australians consume it here, and that's why they make Mama Blu's the object of their affection.
Part of the delight of discovering Mama Blu's is its location. The restaurant is tucked away in Elwood, an inner suburb of Melbourne. Once there, the discovery continues with the menu options and special night events. Their journey to Australia started with a conversation amongst friends.
“The discussion at the time was that Australia had an all-white policy, and they don't allow people of colour into the country. I was so incensed that I went to the Australian consulate and asked them. They said, “Oh my God, no!” That finished years ago. Here's an application. We'll let you in. I filled in the forms, and they let me in!” revealed Stephanie. At the time, both lived in England. Her parents had left Kingston, Jamaica, to settle in the United Kingdom in the late fifties as part of the pioneering migrant community. Martin had relocated from South Africa.
The two have always celebrated bold flavours. Like the Honey and Passionfruit Spiced Chicken Wings and Voodootini (variation of a martini with Stephanie's award-winning chilli sauce brand).
Mama Blu's chicken wings use the jerk technique. “There is a place in Jamaica, in the parish of Portland, called Boston that uses the high jerk method,” Stephanie explains. Layers of pimento bark then meat are rubbed generously with spices then smoked. It's almost like honey. Unable to carry out the same technique in Australia, Stephanie's dishes provide a substitute for flavour. The wings are marinated with honey and passion fruit, an ode to her tropical ancestry. It's a climate of hot, sticky and sweet on a plate. Table that with her version of callaloo leaves and okra chips, and there's a cultural activity taking place before the eyes.
Callaloo is infused with thyme to draw out the spicy, warming feel a dish like this offers. Patrons love the okra chips too. Hold one in your hand, and you are holding African culinary history. Okra travelled wherever African slaves travelled. That's not all this restaurant offers however. There are also special nights designed to keep patrons excited about flavour.
Mama Blu's hosted a rum and cigar night during the pandemic, which included Martin's specially selected rum choices paired with Cuban cigars and an eight-course tasting menu. “We've always served rum and Jamaican food. People come here to explore food flavours and rum flavours,” Martin says.
Exploration it is. Mama Blu's offers adventurous patrons a pathway to Jamaican culture lit with culinary traditions and innovation. Australians love 'different'. It's why Mama Blu's is the object of our affection.
To find out more about Mama Blu's Food Co & Kitchen, visit their website and restaurant: www.mamablu.com.au
Address: 61 Glen Huntly Road,
— Bridgett Leslie is an internal auditor by day and a media correspondent by night. She is passionate about Caribbean flavours and the community around this culinary cuisine. She is currently finishing her undergraduate studies in Gastronomy at Le Cordon Bleu.