Footballer-turned-chef Shamarley Clayton maximises his potential
Former Arnett Gardens FC footballer turned chef, Shamarley Clayton

THE decision to transition from being a Jamaica Premier League goalkeeper to chasing his dream of becoming a chef was easy for 24-year-old Shamarley Clayton. It was the young man's passion for the culinary arts that kept him going throughout his younger years.

Clayton, a former Arnett Gardens FC player, vividly remembers his introduction to the kitchen as a young boy growing up in Trench Town, Kingston. What started out as a routine on Sunday mornings later shaped the young man's life trajectory.

"I was introduced at a tender age through my mom. On a Sunday, before we went to church, she would always walk me through the steps of how to season the chicken and soak the peas. I always saw her as a role model and I looked up to her so that is where it all started for me," Clayton told Career & Education.

"I fell in love with it. It became a passion and every day I would just want to go into the kitchen," he said.

A jerked chicken meal served with festivals, fried plantains and fried sweet potatoes.

Though he wanted to excel in other academic areas during his years at high school, Clayton said he felt as if he was always being pushed back to the culinary arts. Admittedly, it was through a conscious decision to pivot and focus on his love that he was able to complete his studies at Charlie Smith High School.

"I went to Vauxhall High and things didn't work out well…my grades started to drop. I don't know if it was the environment, but I dropped out at grade 11," Clayton said.

He continued: "I didn't graduate. However, I went on to Charlie Smith High School where everything changed. I started a new chapter with cooking and everything turned out for the better. I got eight Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) subjects with a distinction in food and nutrition."

Through work produced during his final year of high school, Clayton was able to obtain a scholarship to attend Caribbean Maritime University to study logistics and supply chain management, but that, too, did not "work out".

Clayton's signature barbi-fried chicken served with rice and peas and curry on the side.

"I don't think it was a field that I was made for, but I took the opportunity and I went there for two semesters. I can tell you that it wasn't working out because I didn't enjoy it as I do cooking, so I reached out to my mother and she told me to follow my heart," he said.

During this time Clayton was also at the heights of his professional football career with the Arnett Gardens FC. However, the undying urge to trade his cleats for an apron would force him to also put this love on pause.

"Initially I didn't want to cook professionally because I also played football, but I wanted to go to college to pursue culinary arts and I wasn't making enough money to save to go after that dream. I then decided to divert fully to what I enjoy doing," he said.

This decision, he said, was a shock to a lot of his peers, and saw one of his football mentors contacting the then 22-year-old with a host of questions.

Clayton's brown stewed fish served with rice and peas.

"One of my mentors reached out to me and said, 'Wah happen? You stop playing football?' I told him not really because I still have a love for the game, but I have a stronger love for cooking," said Clayton.

At 24 years old, the young man has fully plunged into a professional career in the field of culinary arts. The proud owner of Clays' Kitchen now operates out of Wisconsin in the United States, and is confidently taking Jamaican cuisine "to the world".

"I moved to the States where I stayed with my aunt and cousins. During the height of the pandemic there was no work, so I decided to just cook some food. The first thing I made was barbi-fried chicken, which later became my signature dish, and they told me that this cooking should not just be for those in the house. They told me to take it to the world and I did just that," Clayton shared.

The reception from his customers has been "massive", he said.

An ackee and saltfish meal served with fried dumplings and plantains made by young chef Shamarley Clayton.

"They love me and they are always asking for more. If I don't cook one day, trust me, it is a disaster and it is not just Jamaicans who are buying my food, but people from all over the world. I have people from South Africa, Peru, and Columbia coming to see what real Jamaican cuisine is."

Acknowledging that he has come a far way in just two years of becoming a chef, Clayton shared that he is always looking for ways to improve his skills and service to his customers.

"If I'm not cooking to sell, I will sit down with my notebook and pen to see what recipe I haven't tried in a while or what I could explore. The other day I made mango steamed fish," he said.

"Cooking has become a lifestyle. It is now a part of me, so whenever I wake up in the morning I know that God gave me the gift and ability and I am going to utilise it to maximise my potential."

As for the game of football, the youngster has not forgotten his love.

"I will always respect the game of football," he said.

BY ROCHELLE CLAYTON Career & Education reporter claytonr@jamaicaobserver.com

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