The Adtelligent 8@8 Dinner Series: Jerk Rice and Cultural Appropriation

Thursday, September 13, 2018

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Two chefs, a politician, three creatives, an academic and an engineer walk into a dinner party. This is not the beginning of a bad joke. It was the reality for a group of Jamaicans last Thursday who gathered around a dinner table to talk about a topic that was sure to make their blood boil. It was also an opportunity to add Adtelligent's 8x8 dinner series to the cultural hotbeds across the world like Pin Drop Studio in London, Artscape in Toronto, The Poeticians in Dubai and Vica Miller Literary Salons in New York City. And, here on The Rock, there's Adtelligent's 8@8 Dinner Series.


Cultural hotbeds embrace controversy and Adtelligent 8@8 Dinner Series follow that format. For its first event, the topic was: jerk rice and cultural appropriation. A few weeks ago, Thursday Foodhighlighted that world-renowned chef Jamie Oliver was peddling a microwavable-ready meal called “punchy jerk rice”. Oliver was accused of cultural appropriation (“the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society”) by a number of Jamaicans including Dawn Butler, the MP for Brent Central in north-west London and the Labour Party's shadow minister for women and equalities. This egregious move by Oliver also caused a worldwide debate as to what culinary cultural appropriation looks like versus paying homage.

Digital marketing agency Adtelligent decided not only to tackle this question head-on but also challenge local chef Colin Hylton to make, well, you guessed it, jerk rice. Gathered around the table in Stony Hill were: Glaister Cunningham, project execution manager, CAC 2000 Ltd; Dr Enrique Okenve, African Studies lecturer, University of the West Indies, Mona; Adtelligent CEO Craig Powe; Nevada Powe, director of product, pricing & development, Adtelligent; chef and food consultant Gariel Ferguson; Chief of Staff, Office of the Leader of the Opposition Imani Duncan-Price; and chef Colin Hylton.

Dinner began at 8:00 pm (hence the name) but the rousing conversation began before the soup course was even served. Speaking of dinner courses, Hylton prepared a smoky split pea soup with ham, classic pumpkin bisque, jerk rice with caramelised plantains and sausage, mango peanut salad and lychee cheesecake. The pea soup had layers upon layers of flavour only intensified by the smokiness of the ham and jerk seasoning and the earthiness of the split peas. The pumpkin bisque was creamy and delicious — we wouldn't expect anything less from chef Hylton. But Thursday Foodis confident that you're burning to know if rice can be jerked. Put it this way, if a Jamaican chef with the pedigree and inventiveness of Colin Hylton does it, then, kinda.

Hylton toasted the rice and built the flavours in the pan, similar to how one would make a paella. The toasty notes would mimic that of jerk and the jerk seasoning added the flavour profile that Jamaicans can quickly discern. Compared to Oliver's “punchy jerk rice” with its eggplant, red jalapeño peppers and lemon juice, this version can easily be embraced as a bona fide Jamaican dish, even though it's not. This flavourful interpretation of jerk rice was paired with a Thai-inspired green mango and peanut salad with parched coconut and coconut dressing. The serving of the main course segued into a debate on authenticity.

The evening served as both food history lesson and brainstorming session on how to protect the intellectual property that is Jamaican jerk. Suggestions ranged from having jerk training accreditation akin to the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana — the organisation that promotes and protects true Neapolitan pizza — to government institutions taking local chefs to present on the main stage of festivals like the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

At the end of the meal, there wasn't a unanimous verdict about whether Oliver was guilty of cultural appropriation or not. However, guests were in total agreement that Oliver showed a lack of consideration for Jamaican jerk, especially since he was taught how to make an authentic version by the Jamaica-born chef Levi Roots in 2011. Thursday Food can only hope that the first iteration of the Adtelligent 8@8 Dinner Series kicks the local salon scene into overdrive.

Colin Hylton's Jerked Rice

4 tbs extra virgin coconut oil
2 cups long-grain rice
4 tbs Walkerswood Jerk Seasoning
3 cups water
2 large onions, diced
4 stalks celery, diced in large pieces
1 lb jerk sausages, diced in large pieces
1 large yellow bell pepper
1 large red bell pepper
Small bunch thyme
1 tbs finely minced ginger
2 large, very ripe plantains
3/4 cup vegetable oil
Small bunch scallion (green part only)

Heat coconut oil in a 4-6 qt pot.
Add rice and toast about 4 mins until
Add jerk seasoning, thyme, ginger and toss.
Add water, salt (to taste) and bring to a boil,
then reduce heat to low and simmer until all
water is absorbed - about 30 mins.
In a large skillet pan add a 1/4 cup from the
3/4 cup vegetable oil and sautée vegetables
until translucent but not too soft.
Add diced sausages and cook about 5 mins.
Dice the plantains and fry in the remainder
of the vegetable oil until crispy.
Fluff rice then fold in vegetables and
sausage mix in the same pot.
Top with plantains then sprinkle with
chopped scallions.
Serve piping-hot.

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