Please forgive my absence. one of my greatest concerns when creating this blog was,”What will I say?”. It turns out I have more to say than I presently have time to write and sequence. Please continue to enjoy the words that make it from the “think” to the “ink”.
Below details a food memory created in June of last year, months before I began my journey as a culinary student:
It was indeed an exciting evening, one that I definitely will never forget. As the drive to our destination, a Japanese restaurant, seemed to endlessly circumnavigate the clock, anticipation heightened, as did my appetite. However, I didn’t’ exactly know what I was to anticipate. The only tidbit of information I was fed was that we were to respectfully remove our shoes and humbly clasp our hands and bowing our heads, as it was Japanese custom to do so.
Once we finally arrived, the doors were opened to a world rather contrary to our prescribed expectations. The atmosphere was loud, vibrant, and full of laughter. I was again confounded, unsure what to imagine. I was, however, certain that I was ready to eat and. gladly, our host possessed the same certainty. My party and I were soon seated at what I could only call our table. It was a hot metal flat-top surface framed by a 1 foot thick wooden border, a surface I now know to be a tappenyaki grill. Our server took our orders and after appetizers and moments of conversation, out came the chef with our meals. I was, until this occasion, unfamiliar with the chef serving my food. I was also unfamiliar with my food arriving to the table raw. We were in for a show.It was indeed an exciting evening, one that I definitely will never forget. As the drive to our destination, a Japanese restaurant, seemed to endlessly circumnavigate the clock, anticipation heightened, as did my appetite. However, I didn’t’ exactly know what I was to anticipate. The only tidbit of information I was fed was that we were to respectfully remove our shoes and humbly clasp our hands and bowing our heads, as it was Japanese custom to do so.
I have since observed a number of such performances, those featuring audacious juggling of knives and spatulas, dancing flames, singing chefs, and the musical exclamations of the grill on which the chef drums, spatula in hand. Nonetheless, none has mirrored my last: a visit to Munasan, a Japanese restaurant whose foundations lie nestled beneath sands of Negril. As we entered the restaurant to take our seats surrounding the grill, playful chat clattered as our childish curiosity queried how a Japanese chef and his cuisine washed up among the foamy, white breakers of the Caribbean island. Some of the more radical members of our group jokingly protested, “If the chef’s not Japanese, I’m not eating!”
After being tickled to laughter, we were greeted by our server. We ordered our entrees and sipped our drinks. As the drinks in our glasses funneled to drops, so did the sand in the hourglass, as we waited anxiously for each granule, timed by the arrival of our cook, to spiral round and round until the very last finally squeezed through the isthmus. Our tongues were teased, and our stomachs provoked while we were served some meal starters: sweet pickled cucumber and carrots alongside rice noodles and seaweed; California sushi rolls and spicy tuna rolls, balanced by its typical companions- pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce; miso soup; and a tempura of fish, plantain, and zucchini. Alas, our meals were escorted to the table by he cook.
While his attire may have seemed reminiscent of a Japanese chef, his physical mien certainly said otherwise. Standing approximately five feet and four inches tall, Chef John was surely a cola-toned Jamaican. He introduced himself and got to work, inviting us to partake in the “Jamanese” fusion of Japanese cuisine prepared with Jamaican “riddim”. He spilled the rice onto the grill soon followed by beef, chicken, swordfish, and shrimp.
From the moment the ingredients hit the grill, their moisture sizzled with excitement, applauding their release, climbing through the atmosphere to take the form of a hazy white mist, followed by the screech of a martial artist: “Wuu-aah!” I remarked, “He really is Japanese!” John joyfully retorted, “No, I’m Jamaicanese.” No argument.
The pile of rice became canvas to soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, peas, carrots, and, among other flavorings, butter, which, in John’s words, “makes everything tastes better”. The canvas then took the shape of a heart before being pumped into our bowls.
Onto the proteins- the shrimp, the fish, and then…the question. “Who’s gonna do this later?” John asked, referring to the cookery and tricks we had seen.. My family nominated me and I didn’t protest. Neither did I know that later meant but a second later. I was instructed to provide assistance in seasoning the chicken. It wasn’t much, but being a culinarian, any bite into a culinary work provides a thrill.
I worked my way from the spectator’s seat to the stage created behind the grill. I followed John’s recipe but I more avidly aimed to duplicate his example. He named an ingredient and I grabbed it, adding it to the chicken as if I was a master, mimicking the chef as closely as I could. I snatched up the salt shaker and swiveled it right below the spatula, agitating the crystals from their places. Next, I
Finally, it was time to dig in. The meal was tasteful. My first taste of swordfish was very meaty; it could have appropriately been deemed the chicken of the sea. My favorite, though was probably the tempura. The energy that was invested in the preparation of the overall meal was positively perceived by the tongue.poured on some green “magic sauce”. Getting a bit more comfortable, I paused with a cube of butter in my hand, right before thrusting it onto the chicken, commanding applause. The final ingredient, teriyaki sauce. I picked up the squeeze bottle while trying to figure out how I’d go out with a bang. I flipped the bottle into the air and once I regained control, I zigzagged the sauce all over the chicken. Boom! Back to my seat as the food was served.
Interestingly, however, as much as I love food, I am convinced that I was more fascinated by the experience: the circle of family, the lively and personal entertainment, and the call to entertain by means of food. In fact, that’s what food is about. Presentation of layers of flavors and textures amongst the aromas and ambiances that surround them create and awaken memories. They define our cravings that, once satisfied, provide one with a familiar, desired feeling. Cravings surpass the mere feeling or taste of a food as it pricks or engulfs your tongue. They serve as a conduit to a place, time, or experience of pleasure. Such an experience as jammin’ with the “Jamanese” is one that will never be forgotten but will most assuredly be recreated in an effort to once again achieve the “Jamanese” flavor.