Caribbean-Inspired Chef Plates Culinary Appropriation
Mixed dishes ready to go.

If you're looking for a taste of the Caribbean without having to leave Sydney, Australia, then Chef Josh Barua's Irie Caribbean food truck is the answer. The classically trained 33-year-old is one of the few non-Caribbean chefs using modern techniques to showcase the traditional flavours of Jamaica. He's been celebrating the wonders of the cuisine since childhood. Through a hometown friendship with his half-Jamaican, half-British friend Ashley, Barua gained an intimate understanding of the culture and cuisine of Jamaica, as well as its unique flavours and ingredients. He eventually decided to take a risk and delve into the world of entrepreneurship, devoting himself to creating dishes that highlighted the diversity of Jamaica's culinary tradition. The result is a contribution to tough conversations on culinary appropriation years later.

In early 2019, the British-born chef noticed that the Caribbean cuisine scene in Sydney had mainly been limited to home-cooked-style meals and decided to introduce commercial cooking techniques. The next step was to partner with beer companies offering tastings. This experience would allow potential customers to try different beers and find one that complemented his menu. It was a great way to get people interested in his business and allowed him to form relationships with different craft breweries. He exclaimed about this unique combination, "It's like cheese and onion — things that go together!"

The former Slough resident (outside West London) is making great strides in bringing authentic Caribbean food into the spotlight. Moreover, the beer gardens create an experience reminiscent of relaxing days spent on the islands enjoying delectable dishes paired with well-curated brews.

Irie Caribbean (Irie — meaning everything is alright and OK) is as fine as the menu Barua created. Customers can enjoy Jerk Chicken or Snapper Escoveitch with sides of fried plantains and rice and peas. Another option is the Curry Lamb. He offers the Chargrilled Corn with noisette butter and onion chutney for those wanting something on the light side. The pandemic-friendly limited menu was carefully researched, and paid tribute to his favourite London memories.

"I wanted to remind people of the Notting Hill carnival. Jamaican ladies are cooking snapper fish with rice and peas while I washed it all down with a beer."

Those looking for a light finish can enjoy Jamaican patties — an ode to his British-Caribbean influence. Jerk chicken can be traced back to the Arawaks, who inhabited Jamaica pre-Columbian times. It has also become synonymous with the Jamaican culinary identity. If someone outside of Jamaican culture were to cook a traditional jerk dish and offer it to the public for profit, the most crucial factor would be authentic flavours.

To ensure this, Barua draws upon his experience with Jamaican culture in London, and offers a traditional marinade as part of the recipe. His marinade comprises several herbs and spices such as scallions, garlic, thyme, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg and Scotch bonnet peppers. All these ingredients create a flavourful mix that gives traditional jerk dishes their distinct taste. For an authentic taste, there needs to be the perfect balance between all the herbs and spices so that none overpowers the other. The jerk seasoning also needs to be applied sufficiently, but not excessively, so that the chicken can soak in all the flavours without too much salt or pepper. Once cooked properly, this marinade will bring out all the rich flavours of any traditional jerk dish. It gives an authentic taste and adds depth and complexity, which is why it is so popular amongst those who have experienced genuine Jamaican cuisine. This dish is also the reason Aussies love Barua's food truck.

Caribbean cuisine is the product of centuries-long cultural exchange between European settlers, enslaved Africans, Indians and indigenous people, creating a blend of flavours unlike any other in the world. For example, food such as pepperpot stew originated with native tribes yet today remains an iconic dish associated heavily with Caribbean culture. Unfortunately, too often, those who have crafted these dishes are not given credit or acknowledgement due to insensitivity towards their heritage, something Barua strongly opposes, instead choosing to appreciate other cultures through learning about them for mutual understanding and connection across borders. There is another topic deeply personal to him: cultural identity.

Born into Bengali and British heritage, the passionate chef was surrounded by different cultures and cuisines from an early age. His father, Aloke, introduced him to spices and chilli while his mother provided a sense of balance with classic British cuisine. Ashley's dad first exposed him to Curry Goat and Jerk Chicken — a combination of flavours that would become one of his favourites. Throughout his early childhood, he enjoyed discovering new combinations of flavours, ingredients and dishes influenced by multiple cultures. This fascination only increased when he started attending culinary school.

"I don't think anyone really owns food. I believe that culture is always changing from a variety of influences. My view is, judge me for my food! It is the same argument as when people believe we shouldn't be mixing races," he said.

The Caribbean is also home to many different cultures and languages. From English to French Creole to Arawakan languages such as Garifuna, one can find an array of cultural practices throughout the islands. The islands have long been the riposte to such Apartheid views. "Isn't culture about enriching and evolving? Culture is the ideas and customs of a particular society. Those preferences influenced a change in the culture. You don't change it by way of race or ethnicity," he added.

While cooking the Caribbean food brought more bouquets than bats his way, the resolute chef dealt with critiques by showcasing his talent and flying the Jamaican flag high at events.

Barua maintains that with some effort, anyone can learn to create a delicious meal with cultural significance. The key is truly understanding the culture you are trying to recreate in your kitchen. To do this requires researching the techniques, ingredients and inspirations behind the food. It also requires exploring what makes each dish unique and meaningful. For example, Caribbean cuisine is known for its bright and vibrant flavours like citrus, spices, tomatoes and herbs such as thyme, bay leaves or parsley. Not only does researching local cultures give you insight into their food, but it can also provide background knowledge on the history of where different ingredients came from — taking you on a journey through time and place.

"The people I've grown up with, my love for the Caribbean culture, and the desire to spread those fantastic flavours to Sydney. This is important to me," he explained. Barua demonstrates that cooking is a great way to experience different cultures without leaving home. By embracing a culture's heritage and understanding its traditions, you can craft beautiful meals packed with meaning and history. And best of all? Experimentation means mistakes are allowed! Be brave in your adventure by tasting new dishes, blending flavours and experimenting with different ingredients — it's all part of learning about different cuisines authentically! So, go ahead — take Chef Barua's advice: Respect each culture's cooking, and embark on your island adventure today! There's also a food truck down under waiting to serve you a taste of home the next time you visit Sydney, Australia.

To find out more about Chef Joshua Barua, visit

Instagram: @irie.caribbean

Facebook: IRI3caribbean

Bridgett Leslie is an internal auditor by day and 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.

Chef Josh Barua.
Caribbean fish and chips.
Chargrilled corn with noisette butter and onion chutney.
Crispy skin snapper escoveitch, rice & peas, and plantain .
Curry lamb .
Jerk chicken with rice and peas and plantain chips.
Chef Joshua Barua serves jerk chicken with pulled brisket patties and habanero aioli..
Salt fish patty with chutney and lime.
Patty and pickled vegetables.
Pulled beef brisket patties.
Crispy fried snapper burger on toasted milk bun with maple slaw, habanero aioli and pickled capsicum.
Loaded Jerk Chicken FriesPulled jerk chicken, torched trio of cheese, smokey jerk bbq sauce, chipotle mayo, habanero aioli, scallion and coriander.
The food truck pop-up in North Sydney.
Jamaicans Down Under with Bridgett Leslie

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