Grace Apiafi could never have predicted that her birth mother's Jamaican heritage would one day help her own the first food trailer business in Auckland, New Zealand. Gracefully Jerked is the brain child of the 39-year-old social worker working with at-risk youth. Joining a breed of pandemic-resistant entrepreneurs, she started her first culinary business in January 2021. They make an excellent riposte to a pandemic that invoked cancel culture to most parts of the food industry. But even an international pandemic cannot cancel some cultures, especially one as rooted in resilience as Jamaica's.
Grace's culinary story was seeded when her adopted parents shared her family's history with her at a young age. “I believe my family was from Clarendon. My grandparents were born in Jamaica and moved to the United Kingdom, where my mother was born. I was fostered as a baby and went to my adopted family at the age of two. My father is English Nigerian, and my mother is English.” Whilst at university, Apiafi met a fellow Jamaican student, Tanya, who sparked a love for their culinary heritage in her and taught the Criminology major everything she wanted to know about the cuisine. Her first trip home to Clarendon (her ancestral roots) was at the age of 21.
“I remember my hosts living on a sugar cane farm and growing lots of produce to sell at the market, downtown Kingston. They also owned cows, chickens and goats. I thought this was really cute. After a day's excursion, I came back to find one less goat outside.... dinner was the freshest and tastiest curried goat!”
Discovering Jamaica was the catalyst for experimenting with local flavours and for her food trailer idea. The food she tasted on that trip is the food she offers New Zealanders. For vegans, Gracefully Jerked offers Jerk Jackfruit and Chickpea Curry Roti. Grown plentiful on the island, jackfruit tells the story of colonisation. Add homemade jerk seasoning to it, and the story changes to a celebration of culture. Another favourite is the Montego Bay Stack. Auckland's food scene is multicultural. The dish is a rethink of Mexican nachos. “Because it's street food, it needs to be easy to eat. Kiwis love eating on the go,” she explains. Layers of chips, jerk meat, corn slaw and mango. Aptly named after “MoBay,” for having all the ingredients of a fun tropical adventure, the dish offers a Caribbean-Mexican flavourful experience. A bit of salsa and mango dancing on top of jerk chicken or pulled pork: Sweet, sour, salty. Perhaps Gracefully Jerked has achieved umami with this invention. Discovery and resilience are Apiafi's modus operandi.
“Being adopted brings its many struggles, traumas and challenges in life. But the experience turned me into the strong-willed and passionate woman I am today,” she shares.
Purpose drives Apiafi. Through her food business, the focused entrepreneur hopes to eventually pivot into a social enterprise, helping youth who've come through the foster care and adoption system get work experience in the food industry. She also has plans to expand her spice and sauce brand into supermarkets. Grace Apiafi was meant to gracefully jerk Auckland's food scene the Jamaican way.
To learn more about Gracefully Jerked, please visit the Instagram page @gracefullyjerked.
— 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.