Authentically Jamaican with Karl Hart
Building a legacy takes time, effort and energy. With the right platform and opportunities, one can obtain great recognition from their contribution to worthwhile institutions. For renown executive chef of over 47 years and owner of The Pantry Caterers, Karl Hart, the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) was his catalyst for success. In celebration of their 55th anniversary, the JCDC honours Karl Hart for his contribution to Jamaican culinary arts.
As a young chef, Hart decided to follow his dream of becoming his own boss in 1984 with the opening of The Pantry. "It was two years after opening that I decided to enter JCDC in 1986 with the encouragement of someone from the Jamaica Tourist Board," said Hart. Hart admitted that he was extremely nervous because highly established companies and individuals were known to enter the competition.
"This was something for big shots with big restaurants, and I was just starting out," explained Hart. Hart admitted that upon entering the competition venue for the first time, he was very anxious. "I thought to myself this did not make any sense and wanted to turn back to the car park," he said. After explaining this to his wife, she reprimanded him for thinking he was not good enough for the competition. "She told me to cut out the foolishness and go in because you don't know what will happen," he said. That year, he won three gold medals and a trophy for the best use of local ingredients. "The judges that were supposed to taste the food nyam off the food," laughed Hart.
Embrace local produce
Hart indicated that his participation in the JCDC competition boosted his career and made The Pantry a household name for authentic Jamaican food. Hart prides himself in embracing local produce and inventing different ways to display them creatively. "I have created a jackfruit gateau-like a buttercream cake with roasted jackfruit seeds sliced and used to coat the cake," said Hart. One year, Hart produced a cheese roll from local cheeses that included curry, jerk and even mango cheese. "This had herbs grated cheese and was served with real tough crackers," explained Hart.
"JCDC broadens your whole outlook on who you are [and] where you want to go and was also very motivational," he said. There were times when he experienced David vs Goliath scenarios that showed him that the size of a business does not determine success or failure. "The competition focuses on the quality of the food and use of local ingredients," said Hart.
Though Hart graduated as a trained pastry chef from the Jamaica Hotel School, which existed in the '70s, he was able to refine his skills during the competitions, which provided a competitive environment to grow and become better.