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Jamaican cook turns up the heat in New Jersey

Published:Wednesday | June 17, 2015 | 10:29 AMGleaner Writer
Joy, a cook at the popular Jamaican restaurant Pit Stop Barbeque in Orange, New Jersey, prepares authentic jerk chicken for those who love the spicy treat .
Joy tells ‘Food’ that her dishes contain the best herbs, spices and seasonings, and she cooks with lots and lots of love.

Joy Powell is a cook from May Pen in Clarendon Jamaica, who migrated to the United States over 20 years ago.

Today she has become the face of authentic jerk chicken and pork at a takeout only Jamaican restaurant in Orange, New Jersey.

Called the called The Pit Stop Barbeque & Restaurant, it is smoky and unpretentious, usually with only standing room for customers, many of whom have travelled for miles to get there. As food lovers approach within a few blocks, the seductive jerk aromas floating in the air take over to become their GPS. And at the Pit Stop is always rewarding as the tender, perfectly jerked chunks of moist chicken and pork have a well-earned reputation of melting in your mouth.

Joy, 52, is the first to admit that although she always had a love for home cooking, she came to New Jersey with very limited culinary experience.

cooking for strangers

"The first time I cooked for strangers was at a mechanic shop on Chapleton Road in May Pen", she told Food. "There were a lot of hungry men at the auto shop around lunch time, and I would cook mostly fried chicken and rice and peas, and I guess it was really good because some of them offered to marry me", she chuckled.

As it turned out, Joy landed a job at the Pit Stop Barbeque when she arrived in New Jersey. She had never done jerk, and she had never cooked so many dishes for so many people before. But she was eager to learn so she carefully watched, observed and studied what her colleagues were doing, and she also received many years of on-the-job pointers from Byron Smith, the restaurant owner and 'jerkmeister' of New Jersey.

Powell has now perfected her craft and people of all nationalities come knocking at the doors to take home her Jamaica-style jerk. Cooking is her passion, and even when she cooks at the restaurant for six days a week, she still insists on cooking on her day off at home for her family.

But jerk is not Powell's only area of culinary proficiency. She also cooks amazing stew peas, cow foot, tripe and beans, oxtail, curried goat, curried chicken, stew chicken, stew pork and all the soups that one can imagine. Don't expect any upcoming cook books from Joy anytime soon, but when asked about the secret to her success, she whispered, "My dishes have to be prepared with the best herbs, spices and seasonings, and I always cook with lots and lots of love."