It had been 20 years since I’d last been to Jamaica.
As a Caribbean correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, I hung out with street gangs in Kingston, stayed up all night with Prime Minister Edward Seaga at Afro-Jamaican religious ceremonies, traveled 90 miles an hour down winding, narrow roads with Prime Minister Michael Manley as he tried to charm every last Jamaican for a political comeback. But I had never traveled through Jamaica with a chef.
This was to be a particularly promising trip because the cook, Bradford Thompson, is a thinking chef who cares deeply about the cultural roots of the food he prepares. Bradford, who looks like the college football player he used to be, worked at Daniel, in Manhattan, before gaining fame as the chef at Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician in Scottsdale, Arizona (where he was named an F&W Best New Chef 2004). But his passion for Jamaican food, which can be partially credited to his wife, a smart and beautiful Jamaican woman named Kerry-Ann Evans-Thompson, has him planning to open his own Caribbean restaurant in New York City. Bradford, Kerry-Ann and I were to take a tour around Jamaica to visit some of the best off-the-beaten-path food stops in the country.