Bloomfield Great House - Delighting generations of taste buds
Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer
WHEN THEY first crossed paths, it was a meeting of two worlds, she being Jamaican-born and raised and he an Australian native. Their odyssey that started in New York now finds Pamela Grant and Ralph Pearce settled in Mandeville, where the convergence of their diverse cultural tastes, talents and expertise is manifesting itself in a rewarding partnership. The husband and wife team owns and operates the Bloomfield Great House, ideally nestled atop a hill about a mile from the town it overlooks.
"It's been quite an adventure," Pearce told The Gleaner.
"We operate as a lunch-and-dinner business with a small bar every day except Sunday, except there is a special event. We have a small staff, most of whom have been with us many, many years and very much like a family, the good and bad of that," Grant confessed.
Their operation is just the latest chapter in a story centred on the rich history of one of four properties that donated land for the formation of Mandeville which got its name in 1838.
Fast-forward to the late 1970s when Grant's dad, who lived nearby, bought the wreck of a building and rented it straightaway to eccentric Scotsman Bill Lorie who established a steakhouse.
"To this day, whenever you go into Mandeville, this can only be known as the steakhouse despite our every attempt to go back to the original property name - Bloomfield Great House," Grant shared.
After Bill's death, his partner ran the steakhouse but it is to the Scotsman's lasting credit that even today he remains an integral part of its history. During the two-year renovation period, workmen who stayed on the property reported hearing the former owner coming up the stairs at night. Of course, they were supplied with lots of white rum to cope with this other spirit. Grant recalls that it was also during this period her husband completed his internship in Jamaican expletives - a course he passed with distinction.
"Ralph has some wonderful stories as he had to learn every Jamaican bad (curse) word in the book to communicate with the staff, the labourers and became very good at it."
Finally, Grant's mom, who had had enough of renovating, thought it was time to feed some people and ordered the couple to reopen the place, which they did in 1997.
At first, there was a lot of support from the thriving bauxite sector but with the global downturn in the industry, those clients dried up. Since then, Bloomfield has been swept by wave after wave of customers, as Grant explained.
"You get these customers and then you don't see them and then you get these others. So we do a real dance trying to have something for a very broad spectrum of people because Mandeville has lots of medical professionals, educational professionals. Mandeville has self-made money.
"Mandeville has working-class people who like to come and show off to their visitors partly this view, partly this grand old house. People come up for anniversaries and birthdays (as well as) corporate events, so we do a real dance and the building stands strong through all these hurricanes," she boasted.
A big part of Bloomfield's appeal is its old-world charm grafted on a platform of modernisation pegged to a bygone era that continues to influence the present.
"Every now and then, somebody comes up here and says, 'You know, when I was a little boy, I used to come up here with father on the cart and watch them take the milk down in those metal milk containers. So we're always charmed to run into people who can tell us stuff like that," said Grant.
A dairy is just one of the businesses that operated from the Bloomfield property that was also reportedly the site of Jamaica's first citrus-packing house, with evidence of the coffee plantation days still around.