Wed | Nov 13, 2019

Taste the islands

Published:Thursday | April 2, 2015 | 12:00 AMKeisha Hill
Chef Irie with Ato Boldon.
Chef Irie (right) with reggae singer Maxi Priest.
Contributed Photo Taste the Islands-Bake and Shark Sandwich
Chef Irie (left) and Nicole Hylton.
Inner Circle and Chef Irie.
Herb Crusted Salmon with Papaya Mango Slaw.
Taste the Islands’ Plantain Dip.

Caribbean cuisine is widely known for its exquisite tastes and is highly regarded and loved among millions around the world. Many people like to whip up some of these dishes and make it a fun experience. Over the last five to seven years, there has been a dramatic increase in interest in Caribbean recipes.

Starting April 4, 2015, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) viewers across the United States (US) will be able to savour the flavours of the Caribbean when they get to tune in to Taste the Islands with Chef Irie. From preparing home-made spicy jerk seasoning to Latin-inspired mussels chorizo in mango coconut sauce, Jamaica-born host Chef Irie will tantalise viewers with traditional and gourmet Caribbean recipes.

Programming nods from more than 130 PBS stations around the United States will make Taste the Islands with Chef Irie a seven-part series, the first Caribbean cooking show, and the first Jamaican-produced series to be aired across the US on the PBS network.

Popular media personality Calibe Thompson of Blondie Ras Productions is the executive producer and director of the show, working along with Caribbean television industry stalwart Lukkee Chong of Frame by Frame Productions to bring the project to fruition.

"We have received such tremendous support from our community, and we are proud to be bringing the best of our culture to a national platform. In each show Chef Irie and co-host Nicole Hylton take traditional Caribbean dishes and make them into gourmet-style dishes and also do the reverse of taking gourmet dishes and adding a Caribbean flavour," Thompson said.

Blondie Ras Productions is a Miami-based video-production company that creates Caribbean-inspired lifestyle content for an international audience appreciative of cultural diversity. The company seeks to become the pre-eminent source for Caribbean-related television content. Blondie Ras Productions is the company behind the Taste the Islands, The Caribbean Diaspora Weekly, Miami Fitness TV, and Island Origins television shows.

After submitting the pilot project, Thompson said the team waited for several weeks without a response. However, after a brief follow-up, PBS was keen on presenting the show.

"This really is a milestone achievement for our community. This is the first Caribbean cooking show and the first Jamaican-produced series to broadcast nationally via America's public television stations. With more than 130 stations indicating that they will broadcast the show, it will be accessible to at least 150 million Americans over the course of the next two years," Thompson said.

In each half-hour episode of the series, Chef Irie will create mouth-watering fare inspired by his Jamaican upbringing, the wider Caribbean, and his travels around the world. For example, in one episode, Jamaican-style steamed snapper is prepared en papillote, and in another, Latin guava cheese pasteles are deconstructed to create a mousse served in phyllo tart shells.

While each island will have its particularities, Caribbean cuisine generally have a unique blend of African, Amerindian, European, East Indian, Arab and Chinese influences, with 80 per cent of most Caribbean cooking centred on Jamaica, with its heavy emphasis on jerks and marinades.

If you know anything about the Caribbean, then you know that the islands are covered and abundant of different fruits and vegetables. There are not a lot of Caribbean foods that are made without adding some type of lush tropical fruit to the mix. Like Cajun and West African cooking, Jamaican cuisine has its own holy trinity of ingredients - Scotch bonnet pepper, spring onions and fresh thyme.

The series is presented by South Florida's WPBT2 and distributed by American Public Television (APT), distributors of popular public television programmes such as Downton Abbey and America's Test Kitchen.

Christopher Funkhouser, vice-president of exchange programming and multicast services at APT, said: "Cooking is one of the most popular genres on public television and we expect audiences will respond enthusiastically to the new series."

The show will feature cameos by Caribbean celebrities, including Inner Circle of Bad Boys fame; British reggae-fusion singer Maxi Priest, who topped US charts with hits like I Just Wanna Be Close to You and Set the Night to Music in the 1990s; Trinidadian Olympic sprinter-turned-NBC sports analyst, Ato Boldon; and St Vincent's Turn Me On hitmaker, Kevin Lyttle.

During the course of each show, viewers can listen in as the chef and guests discuss food from their native countries, their travels, and impromptu cooking lessons he offers them.

Hugh 'Chef Irie' Sinclair is a professional chef with a palpable love of creating delicious food. He holds degrees in both architecture and culinary arts. His high profile clients include Macy's, the Knight Foundation, and the Jamaican Jerk Festival franchise.

Fans of Caribbean cuisine can receive updates, view images, watch previews, and find recipes on the show's website,