CULINARY giant Norma Shirley died yesterday afternoon at the University Hospital of the West Indies after a brief illness. 72-year-old Shirley who was born in Cliveside, St James, moved to New York where she catered for magazine executives and styled the food for their publications.
Shirley opened her first restaurant, The Statin Restaurant, in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
She returned to Jamaica from the United States of America some three decades ago, totally revolutionised the local culinary landscape with her nouvelle cuisine when she opened Norma’s on Belmont Road in 1986.
Her name quickly became synonymous with extraordinarily styled plates and delectable cuisine.
Shirley moved from Belmont Road to Port Royal Street and from there to Montego Bay where she opened Norma’s at the Wharfhouse where she tantalised the taste buds of movie stars, billionaires and industry giants.
Her move back to Kingston in 1998 and the opening with Evon Williams of Redbones, The Blues Café, on Braemar Avenue, heralded a new beginning for both Shirley and her legions of fans in Kingston who waited hours for tables to turn.
She was dubbed the Julia Child of the region and was featured in numerous international culinary publications — among them Travel and Leisure, British Vogue, American Vogue, Brides, MACO, Conde Nast Traveler, The New Yorker, Bon Appétit, and Nyam Jamaica — as well as on the Food Network where she took the opportunity to showcase Island Grill, Appleton Jamaica rum, Twyman’s coffee and Tweedside jerk. She was also featured on the Discovery Channel.
Shirley, along with businessman Ian Levy opened Norma’s on the Terrace which did much to add currency to Devon House, one of the country’s leading national monuments in Kingston.
At the time of her death Shirley had just opened the Grog Shoppe at Devon House.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who received the news of Shirley’s passing while on his way to attend the state funeral of Barbados’ Prime Minister David Thompson, said the Caribbean had lost a great cultural treasure.
“Norma’s on the Terrace boasts an enviable record of being named by the world renowned Conde Nast Traveler as one of the 60 best new restaurants in the world in May 2000,” Golding said in his tribute in which he extended condolences to Shirley’s family, customers and friends.
Shirley was awarded the Prime Minister’s Award for culinary excellence in 2003, the same year that she was presented with the Chairman’s Award at the annual Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards.
In 1998, she was named Caterer of the Year by the Observer Table Talk Food Awards and in 2004 her Norma’s on the Terrace won the Restaurant of the Year Award at the annual awards event.
The following year, Norma’s on the Terrace copped the Observer Table Talk Food Awards Best Lunch Spot trophy.
In 2007, she was presented with the Woman of Excellence Award by the Kiwanis Club of New Kingston, and at this year’s Observer Table Talk Food Awards she was honoured with the Longevity Award.
Shirley was an avid track and field fan and an ardent supporter of the Reggae Boyz.
She is survived by her mother Lucy and son Delius Shirley of the celebrated Ortanique-onthe-Mile restaurant in Coral Gables, Florida.