House of Dutch Pot gambles with rich flavour for global impact
Marinated meats and fresh ingredients sizzle and simmer on the fire as exotic and engaging scents play aromatic notes in the air. This experience is rooted in the island herbs and spices at the Jamaican restaurant, House of Dutch Pot, in Las Vegas, Nevada.
No stranger to authentic flavour, what happens in Vegas hasn’t just stayed there as the word has gotten out that the eatery is a must-try in Sin City, giving the eatery a major boost since opening in 2021.
Since we last spoke, chef and restaurateur Oniel Smith revealed that he now has Las Vegas ‘in a chokehold’, with hundreds salivating over his culinary offerings.
“We have six different jerk-inspired sauces for our main dishes; guava, tamarind, apple, pineapple, mango, and original. The oxtail house wrap is a big hit among diners. We debone the oxtail and turn it into a burrito, with a Caribbean twist of the traditional rice and peas. That has become a staple. People from near and far come just to request that dish, as well as the oxtail-loaded fries,” he explained to Food.
The journey began in the comfort of his garage. As word got out about his dishes, he soon moved to a space that could accommodate a bigger clientele.
After going through the honeymoon phase, business slowed tremendously, for all of nine months. Although he struggled to make ends meet, Chef Smith never gave up hope. He remained resilient and determined to make his dining dreams a successful reality.
Fast-forward to last July. Smith hosted a back-to-school event for the less fortunate. And as luck would have it, a reporter from ABC News stopped by to have a quick bite. Little did she know she would be in for an enticing awakening.
Smith went on to make an unexpected television appearance on the network, courtesy of the reporter.“That was the turning point for us. As people learned more about us, they began coming in,” he said. Strangers from all walks of life have fallen in love with the jerk and traditional Dutch pot dishes, taking trips to Vegas and making the restaurant their first stop.
“I’ve seen many people stop by with their suitcases sitting right beside them. People park on the outskirts before opening hours, just waiting for the doors to unlock so they can be first in line. It’s incredible and to say I’m grateful is an understatement,” he revealed.
He was on the ABC Network once again for Black History Month. And he was the only Caribbean restaurant in all of Nevada to make the cut. After getting word that his eatery was deemed the number one Caribbean restaurant, not just in Vegas but in the state of Nevada as well, he received a surprising phone call on his 35th birthday last year from the offices of a food legend. Guy Fieri, American restaurateur, author, and host of the popular programme, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, which airs on Food Network, expressed interest in featuring the chef and the diner on his show.
“The team said they got over 100 emails last year about featuring the restaurant. We did a four-and-a-half-hour interview over the phone. It was filmed in November last year and recently aired this year. It was an amazing experience. I am the first generation Jamaican restaurant to bless the Food Network,” he shared.
Fieri remarked that he has never been to another Jamaican or island restaurant that offers six different jerk sauces. “After we finished shooting, Guy pulled me aside and said, he has never walked into a restaurant of this magnitude. He thought I had four or five establishments because I run my restaurant like a big corporation. He also said this was the 195th show and I was ranked in the top three.”
Smith is opening a new food truck called Reggae Eats, to facilitate his mobile cooking pursuits. And he will be launching The House Jerk Centre, which will be open from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m. and feature a lot of finger food, to cater to the city that never sleeps.
With the objective of franchising the business in the long run, his sights are set on participating in and winning food competitions Chopped and Guy’s Grocery Games. Plans are also under way to cater for next year’s Super Bowl. And while the ‘steaks’ are high, this humble chef doesn’t believe in limits.
He is excited to give others a positive taste of the Jamaican culture and his ultimate play is to use his flavour platform to make a global impact, “It has been a blessing. It’s surreal for me. I know money makes a difference. But money will never make me different.”
He is hoping to change the narrative by giving top-notch service and is happy to provide job opportunities for those who are passionate and who have the desire to build an empire. He considers his staff his family and treats them accordingly.
Never too far from the sizzle, he is proud to distribute food to the homeless, “Me nuh come from richness. Me know poor life. There are a lot of days when my brother, family, and I went to bed without a meal. So having the financial opportunity to give back means I am going to do just that.” And when he isn’t in the kitchen, he is busy spearheading and planning back-to-school initiatives for children in need of school supplies.
Additionally, he endeavours to assist his alma mater, Morant Bay High School, by donating to the Home Economics department and inspiring the new generation of young chefs by giving them a piece of the pie as well.