It's all about the big bold colours, flavours, music and the Jerk
In Newcastle's only Jamaican restaurant Chef Jamie Thomas explained to us what the Rustie Lee shrine is all about.See our handpicked guides to Newcastle
“If you youtube her you’ll see she has the greatest laugh, she was the most fun TV chef ever. When I was a kid, back in the early 90's, I used to wake
up to her cooking all these things we’ve never seen before, she introduced things like pineapple and mango to the British public."
Born in North London Jamie said, “Basically I grew up in Little Jamaica, my two best mates, Johnny and Jamie, were Jamaican by birth, their mum was actually
called Winnie, and I used to go to their house after school and hang out. My youth was spent eating coconut oil and curry goat, I’ve been eating curry
goat forever, for me this food is nothing out of the ordinary".
Starting his cooking career in the UK Jamie describes his background as modern British,
“I worked for a restaurant called Saint John, and back in the day, everyone thought we were crazy using squirrels and bone marrow, all the foods that people wouldn’t dream of eating. Fergus Henderson is the head chef, he’s like pop star chef now, but back when I started with him in the early 90’s, people were like ‘what the hell’ we were cooking hearts, livers, spleens, whole pigs, duck legs, all the weird cuts that most people wouldn’t think of using”.
Fast forward to 2001 Jamie arrived in Sydney and found his feet pretty quickly.
“I was a Shareholder/Executive Chef for Drink'n'Dine so I was writing all the menus for the eight different venues. It had a Jamaican restaurant in the mix, there was House of Crabs, Big American Smoker, and few American style pub bistros which had the big schnitzels and burgers. But to be totally honest I don't really like that food.
"When all our pubs were sold I came up here originally to help open the Family Hotel, which never really had a food scene. But again I was over cooking pub style food, which is why I opened up Winnie’s and now just cook the food that I love.”
So what is Jamaican food?
“If you go straight down the line Jamaican food, there’s only a certain amount of dishes that you would eat every day. A lot of it is vegan and vegetarian, but the big stack of ribs doesn’t look out of place. I love the colours, flavours and I love the music.
"The Jerk flavour is like the Tomato Ketchup of Jamaica. It's a hard flavour to describe, it’s chilli but not burning chilli, there is some heat which comes from the Scotch Bonnet chillis. The paste, which is near impossible to find in Sydney, I buy straight from Jamaica.
"To describe it... I don't really know how to, a lot of the flavour is based around the Jerk that’s the all spice berries, thyme and scotch bonnet chillies. The Jerk flavour is really complex, maybe 23 ingredients in a jerk paste, there’s a lot to it, but I guess earthy is a good way to describe it, it’s a really unique flavour. Best thing to do is try it and figure it out yourself."