Eat around Jamaica | Flavourful Woodfire
Even with access to a gas stove, the preferred choice for his grandparents, mother and other relatives was to cook on wood fire.
"The only time we used gas stove was during rain time," said Rual Stephenson whose rustic, off-the-beaten-track restaurant in Montego Bay bears the name 'Woodfire'.
Smoke from the burning wood can be seen on entering this quirky eatery. Stephenson uses logwood, dog wood, pimento and bullet tree, which changes the flavour of his food.
"The smoke goes inside the pot and that's what gives the food the flavour. You taste the natural wood, the smoke from the wood makes the food taste good. That's what my customers like; that's why they come here," he told Food beaming with pride.
Woodfire has become a favourite for this writer and on a recent visit, chef Stephenson prepared broad beans and curried conch, cow foot and rice and peas, complemented by a colourful plate of steamed vegetables for The Gleaner's 'Eat Around Jamaica' team.
On any given day, in addition to conch and cow foot, stewed pork, curried and fried chicken and curried goat, can be found on the lunch menu.
In most places in the world, cow foot is usually pressured to make it soft and more digestible. Not so at Woodfire, particularly, because it is cooked on natural wood. Chef Stephenson does not own a pressure cooker; the wood fire does the trick.
In the case of the conch, it is beaten and tenderised in advance, after it is washed and any remnants of sand removed. Chef Stephenson then cuts it into small pieces and then seasons it with a small amount of curry, just enough to change the colour, a little garlic, onion and pepper. He sautes the seasoning, and covers the conch, allowing it to steam.
The conch, he warned, should not be cooked for more than 15 or 20 minutes, "because the more you cook conch the tougher it gets," he warned. The secret, he revealed, to ensuring the curried conch is not bitter, is to use a small amount of the curry, just enough to change the flavour. "If you use a lot it would have a bitter taste," he explained.
Stephenson says the process of cooking on wood is quicker than gas.
The wood-cooked cow foot was one of the tastiest the team has experienced in years. Talk about gummy; it was almost sinful for any food to be so delicious.
A visit to Montego Bay should include a stop at Woodfire. Ensure this eatery makes it on to your bucket list, if it's even to stop and smell the aroma that permeates the air and caresses the appetite.
Woodfire is located in the Rose Hall area, on the same road as the Parkway Supermarket and the current Reggae Sumfest headquarters.
It is worth it! Chef Stephenson who lives in the district of Kempshot, starts his day at 3:30 every morning. He hits the shower by 4:15 a.m., is on the road by five and at his restaurant some 40 minutes from his home very early every morning preparing breakfast for a small number of 'regulars'.
He then prepares lunch for a clientele who come from near or far.
Half Moon Street
Rosehall, Montego Bay