Chef-turned-flight attendant Ian Baker never dreamed that the turbulence of a virus would force him to stop flying or that he'd start a catering company during the novel coronavirus pandemic. But, in 2020, that is precisely what happened. When the world's airlines, including his employer Fly Dubai, came to a grinding halt, so did his role as a business class purser. The Jamaican who once lived in Giddy Hall, St Elizabeth, pulled on the combination of his love for cooking and ancestral Jamaican roots to start his own catering business Jaminfusion.
Born in London to Jamaican parents, Baker's parents often emphasised their family's culture and cuisine. "I was always around food and in the kitchen. My fondest memories are of my grandmother and mother cooking with me," the 54-year-old, who is one of a set of twins, says, smiling as he recounts playful kitchen encounters with his grandmother Merly Baker.
His culinary passion continued into secondary school when he became the only boy in his cooking class. Everything about the sounds, smells and tastes of Jamaican food woke up the senses of the young aspiring chef. "Of course, I was better than the women! My teachers were always fascinated to see what I created."
Forced to make his first significant pivot out of the culinary scene when the recession hit Europe in 2009, he found himself working at London's Heathrow airport. That's where he fell in love with travel. "I always wanted to live in a different country and environment. I went to Dubai, fell in love with the place and became a flight attendant." The pandemic effect on the aviation industry gave him a chance to serve Jamaican food from his local city Al Warrasan.
Whether in the kitchen making a delicious Jamaican-influenced meal or serving business class passengers as they soar above 50,000 feet in a Boeing 737, customers can be assured of his first-class service. In fact, the concept for the name Jaminfusion was inspired by travel. AM is the alpha code on the trade association for the world's airlines website, IATA and infusion a reference to the dishes he does with all the ingredients of Jamaica. His menu reads like one a business class flight attendant hands his passengers: Seasoned Pumpkin Rice, Port Royal Escoveitch and Salt Fish Fritters.
These dishes showcase different culinary discoveries of Jamaica. Buckle up! Jaminfusion flavours are bound for fast take-off into cross-sections of heat and sweetness on a plate. A customer favourite is the seasoned pumpkin rice. This golden yellow pumpkin dish with chopped thyme, black pepper, spices, carrots, and butter pays homage to grandmother Merly. It's not a popular Jamaican dish, but it is in memory of her.
"As a chef, you can be creative in taking these dishes and creating it the Jamaican way. It's an all-in-one meal," Baker points out. The smell of thyme and pumpkin tossed with garlic stirred in butter gives a strong umami flavour. Served with basmati rice, this dish is a hearty vegan meal. His customer base of expats, flight attendants, pilots, and crew members also love his Port Royal Escoveitch.
In 2018, the frequent flyer visited Port Royal when he returned to Jamaica. "All the fishermen come in with their catch. I learned that here the fish is cooked in a certain way." Fried in corn oil, onions and Scotch bonnet pepper sautéed in hot fat and poured over fish once it's fried. In Dubai, there are so many misconceptions about Jamaican cuisine. He takes to educating his airline customers that spice is different from flavour. People have similar misconceptions about his airline job.
"People think that a flight attendant's job is about only pushing a trolley down the aisle. It's real work. We are responsible for your safety, medical emergencies, even evacuations," he explains. Despite the risks, however, Baker loves the role. His plan for Jaminfusion is to create a cloud kitchen. Meanwhile, he is cautious about moving away from service flow, whether on an airplane or the ground serving his dishes. Serving Jamaican cuisine will always be a classy affair for this flight attendant.
To learn more about Jaminfusion, visit his Instagram account @jaminfusion_dubai
— 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.