Ray's Jerk ShackThursday, September 16, 2021
There's an old Jamaican proverb: “One-one cocoa full basket”. Interpret this to mean that the path to success is a step-by-step process. British-Jamaican expat Ray Payne knows all about this. When Thursday Food interviewed him in 2019, he had just opened the only Caribbean restaurant in Doha, Qatar. A year later, Ray's Jerk Shack would be put through its paces with the novel coronavirus pandemic, holding firm to the culinary heritage from Payne's Jamaican mother and the memories his grandmother helped him create.
Isilda Loretta McKenzie is the 90-year-old inspiration for the thoughtful entrepreneur. “I used to go shopping with Gran in Brixton Market, London. We'd be picking out the ingredients for our dishes that day. My earliest kitchen memories are with her,” he said. Admitting how difficult it was to imitate her flavours, Payne created, a menu driven by personal inspirations and a successful catering home-based company. Having the only Caribbean restaurant in the city is a double-edged sword. Expectations from fellow Caribbean expats and intrigue from locals increase that pressure to deliver the right flavours.
Payne hasn't disappointed either, judging from reviews. With organisations like the Jamaican Middle East Diaspora (JMED), the community is nearby and ready to connect. Unofficial JMED survey statistics estimate that between six to seven hundred Jamaicans live in the Middle East. It is a relatively young diaspora consisting of professionals in the aviation and education fields. Payne understands this need for connection and offers it through his restaurant. The island spirit swirls through the name as well as Ray's Jerk Shack menu.
“In Jamaica, some of the best tasting food are from cook shops and the best jerk from shacks. As I contemplated a name for the business. I already had images of the logo visualised. The reference was going back to cooking on pimento wood,” he shared. As for the menu, as the name suggests, it's all about jerk: Method and flavour.
Using a grill, his lamb catches the smokiness of the fire. Flames smouldering jerk seasoning flavours into the meat like a carpenter piercing his drill into just the right spots to upload the weight of his work. Payne puts his lamb on the grill, adding in layers of ingredients until it's the pure scent of his culinary roots.
He is also an intelligent chef. “I need to do what I can handle. Cooking from home puts me in good stead. I tried to concentrate and master the flavours of a smaller menu.”
Respecting the Indian heritage from his Jamaican Hindu grandfather, Payne also offers a chickpea curry. It's a hit for the Qataris, whose local cuisine is a deep nod to the spice trail.
With Qatar set to host the World Cup in 2022, Payne hopes to represent his heritage through a Jamaican food truck. Hopefully, this will go ahead without any delays. In the meantime, Ray's Jerk Shack stands strong on Qatari soil as a flagbearer for Jamaican cuisine.
You can find out more about Ray's Jerk Shack by visiting the website at www.raysjerkshack.com
— 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.