Spicing up things the old-time way - Couple wants J’cans to cook with more natural ingredients as foreparents did
After years of being involved in the natural juice business, Tollentio and Winston Barr are now looking to spice things up for Jamaicans and anyone else interested in cooking healthier meals.
They are looking to influence culinary decisions with a range of spices and teas – annatto, turmeric, dandelion, rosemary, ginger, cinnamon, bizzy, moringa, and neem – which they produce in Maroon Town, St James.
Winston explained that it was during a visit to his grandmother’s house that he came upon annatto , which she used in her cooking to colour and flavour to meat as well as rice and other dishes. He picked a pod and took it to his daughter’s house, but when he asked, she didn’t know what it was.
“I say to her, this is what our grandparents used for centuries. Put some in the oil,” he told The Gleaner.
She was pleasantly surprised and excited when she saw how it coloured oil.
Winston and his wife, Tollentio, who were looking for a business into which they could channel their creative energy, then started to research the plant and eventually started cultivating it. Since then, they have created the Barrs Spice line with a view to getting more Jamaicans to use the seasoning.
“All of the stuff our [fore]parents used for centuries, we never should have stopped using. They are right here – all natural products,” he told The Gleaner during a tour of the St James pavilion at the 67th Denbigh Agricultural, Industrial and Food Show.
The Barrs cultivate most of the crops and supplement their stock, as needed, through contractual arrangements. They have built up quite an inventory of annatto, especially.
“We have annatto in volumes where we can take on any market we come across in annatto right now,” Winston boasted.
Tollentio, however, cautioned that they were not aggressively going after the export market. If they can get their products into most Jamaican households as well as hotels and restaurants, she would be satisfied.
“If we have Jamaicans eating healthy, that would be a plus for us,” added Winston.
Because of their prior experience in the juice business, the Barrs were well aware of what they needed to do in terms of nutritional panels and certification from the Bureau of Standards Jamaica.
Winston is registered with the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) and is actively involved with the Social Development Commission despite both of his arms being amputated above the elbow, a disability that has forced him to become resourceful and creative.
He was on a roof, working, in Golden Spring, St Andrew, and was pulling up lengths of steel, which came in contact with high-tension wires as he raised them above his head. The tradesman was electrocuted and so badly burnt that doctors made the call to amputate both arms.
Tollentio recalled that the incident happened on March 23, 1979 – a year before she met the man who would become her partner by 1980 and her husband five years later. They have two daughters and two grandsons.
“The first reaction of anybody when they see me is really the reality of my situation, but we do what we have to, to survive, and that is reality also,” he said.
The Gleaner became curious as to how Winston operated his mobile phone, which he had on a string. His wife then dialled the number and Winston answered quite efficiently.
We shook hands as the interview ended, but Winston would have the last laugh – taking a jibe at himself.
“I want this interview to help the business take off so that when you check me, mi can tell you say mi nuh have hand fi sell!” he said.