Fri | Nov 16, 2018

Port Maria restaurant keeps history alive

Published:Thursday | March 3, 2016 | 12:00 AMOrantes Moore
A sign at the restaurant.
Jerdine Baccas

During the 16th and 17th centuries, a large number of escaped prisoners, shipwrecked sailors and runaway slaves survived in the Caribbean by hunting wild pigs and cattle.

After mastering a native Taino food-preservation technique, which involved cutting meat into 'bucan' (or bacon) strips that were smoked over a charcoal fire, these hunters became known as buccaneers.

Initially, they traded with pirates and others sailors navigating the Atlantic Ocean, but after the Spanish killed a vast number of livestock and declared war on the buccaneers, many joined forces with local pirates and began robbing Spanish ships.

Accordingly, England's victory over Spain in Jamaica, before and after the definitive 1658 Battle of Rio Nuevo, in St Mary, owed much to the buccaneers whose exceptional hunting skills made them excellent marksman.

Although the legacy of the buccaneers remains largely ignored, evidence of their existence can be found at a charming eatery located on a stretch of land in Port Maria, St Mary, which was once owned by the world's most famous buccaneer and Jamaica's second Lieutenant Governor, Henry Morgan.

Today, Rumney's Restaurant Bar and Grill stands on the site where Morgan's Llanrumney property existed more than 300 years ago, and servers as an explicit reminder of the area's historic relevance.

Venue owner Jerdine Baccas told Rural Xpress: "My other half and I took over this place in December 2015 and we've been working hard to build up traffic since then. I spent five years working in the kitchens at all-inclusive resorts in St Mary (Beaches and Couples Sans Souci), and love getting creative with food and preparing buffet-style platters.

"At Sans Souci, we used to cook jerk chicken and pork and made a sauce that was really delicious. I think that's where the passion developed because after that, it became a dream of mine to open a jerk centre. So, when this opportunity came up I jumped on it."

Between 1655 and 1672, Morgan established a reputation as the most ruthless pirate operating throughout the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, and amassed a fortune worth more than US$14m in today's money.

Although Baccas does not expect to generate nearly as much revenue from her Morgan-themed venture, she does hope to establish her restaurant as the country's premier jerk destination.

The 26-year-old culinary expert explained: "We'll be constructing some smaller, more intimate gazebos for people who like their privacy, and we're also planning to launch a range of salads and freshly-blended juices for our health-conscious customers.

"My goal is to make Rumney's the number one jerk centre in Jamaica. When people think of jerk, I want the first place that comes to mind to be Rumney's. We have Devon House ice cream here, cakes, and a bar, so it's the perfect chill spot."

While her ambitions are lofty, Baccas is sure they can be achieved as long as two factors remain consistent: her customers must receive good food and a high standard of customer care.

She said: "Customer service is lacking in Jamaica, so it's something that we really try to instill in our staff here. We tell them that even when you have personal problems, put a smile on your face because sometimes it's the customer service, rather than the food, that makes customers come back."