Jamaican dentist takes culinary detour
Opens restaurant in Brazil
Jamaican student Andre James started studying at The University of the West Indies before accepting a scholarship to pursue studies in Brazil, with the main goal of practising dentistry. He acquired his medical degree, but after spending over a decade in the country, he fell in love with the unique culture and decided he was there to stay. Deliberating on a venture that would capture the local market, he saw a business opportunity to specialise in Caribbean experiences. Today, James is the proud founder of Jerky's: Cozinha Caribenha.
The restaurant's menu takes a simple approach – Jerky's serves jerk chicken exclusively, with an array of sides. “I'm in the city of São Paulo, and jerk chicken was just something that was easy to explain. There's a big barbecue culture here in Brazil, so this dish translated well with them because jerk chicken is Jamaican barbecue. For sides, we have rice and peas, ripe plantains, jerk fries, fried sweet potatoes, macaroni salad and premium coleslaw,” James told Food, adding, “We're not fine dining, and we're not street food; we're fast-casual.”
After opening doors in 2020, the team had to fast-track services to a delivery model since the country was on lockdown at the time. The pandemic experience for him was bittersweet in that it delayed the initial excitement surrounding the launch, a project in the making from 2018. Along with his team, he went into the streets, sharing a taste of what the Caribbean had to offer. The aim was to hire a Jamaican chef to work in the restaurant, but those plans fell through with the emergence of COVID-19.
Jamaica is synonymous with jerk, and the smoked goodness can be found in variety in every nook and cranny of the island. Having been born and raised on these green shores, James is well aware of this fact. But living overseas for a number of years, he learnt a thing or two about Brazilians as well. Already establishing that they love to barbecue, they also love chicken, so jerk chicken was a win-win in his book. Where they differed significantly came with the presentation, a key factor which would determine how well it would do on the market. “You know how in Jamaica, jerk chicken is served chopped? It wouldn't be recognisable to your typical Brazilian, and so there was no way they would buy into it. The dish is currently served in uncut halves or quarters,” he shared.
Additionally, the food entrepreneur put the authentic taste to the test, looking to see how they would respond to island spices. As expected, it was too hot to handle and had to be tempered down to suit the discerning taste of his clientèle. Yes, island herbs and spices are still active components, but the businessman stepped up to the plate in the department of recipe development.
He was able to get feedback from repeat customers and make the necessary adjustments to deliver a flavour that enticed his customers' taste buds without being too overpowering, making the restaurant a cultural integration of the Caribbean and Brazil.
With the restrictions lifted, the reception so far has been good. Foodies can now enjoy dining among pastel tones and experience the vibrant island vibe and flavour. James is also looking to the future.
“I hope to expand the restaurant into a franchise and have many locations open all across Brazil. But for now, we're introducing this new experience to the market, with hopes that people will love jerk,” he added.