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Earlier this year Kalisa Martin, a French Culinary Institute-trained chef and former Tasting Table editor, and her partner Jeff Belizaire, a digital marketing expert, moved from New York City to Jamaica and successfully funded a new bed and breakfast called The Runaway via Kickstarter. Here are their tips for having the best, most insider-y experience on the island.
Many people harbor the dream of running away to a tropical island, but few actually act on it. Kalisa Martin and Jeff Belizaire are the exception. Earlier this year Martin, a French Culinary Institute-trained chef and former Tasting Table editor, and her partner Belizaire, a digital marketing expert, moved from New York City to Jamaica and successfully funded a new bed and breakfast via Kickstarter. Called The Runaway, the property is designed for people who want a more authentic experience than what's offered at the island's many mega-resorts, but who still need to stay connected with high-speed Wifi (which can be surprisingly rare). The Runaway just started taking reservations for their launch in September, but Belizaire and Martin took a break from the preparations to share their tips for having the best, most insider-y experience possible on the island. See their advice, below. therunawayjamaica.com.
Go Produce Shopping
Seek out the rarities that have not yet crossed the ocean. Some of our favorites: jackfruit, june plum, sweetsop, guinep, otaheite apple, roast breadfruit (savory or sweet). And while you probably think you’ve had avocados in your lifetime, we promise you haven’t experienced them fully until you’ve had a “pear”—a Jamaican avocado. They're in season just six months of the year—from summer to winter—and are worth planning your vacation around! You won’t get these fruits at your typical resort, or even at the local supermarket. You’ve got to hit up a roadside stand. The available produce will be displayed in all its glory, so you won’t have to guess what’s for sale or if it’s fresh. And don’t be afraid to haggle. If you want a real farmers market experience, find the nearest open-air market where several vendors represent the various neighboring farms.
Get Great Jerk
You undoubtedly have “eat authentic jerk” on your Jamaican bucket list. Well, get ready, because each town has more jerk centers than gas stations. The opportunities will be plentiful. But just like the abundance of pizza joints in NYC, not all jerk centers are created equal. We’ve had our fair share, and the most consistently awesome, smoky-spicy-juicy meat is jerked at Scotchies. The chicken and pork (classics) are the most popular, with sausage and whole roasted fish also on offer. Sides are sold separately and best paired with Red Stripe. Scotchies has locations in Kingston, Montego Bay and near Ocho Rios. Forget any concern you may have that it’s a “chain”; they serve up the real deal. Scotchies Kingston, 2 Chelsea Ave.; Scotchies Ocho Rios, Drax Hall; Scotchies Montego Bay, off Falmouth Rd.
Related: Jamaican Jerk Chicken Recipe
Leave the Resort
Even if you have an all-inclusive meal plan, make a point to dine elsewhere! Jamaican food is a vibrant fusion of flavors and backgrounds. One of our favorite places on the North Coast near The Runaway is Stush in the Bush, an organic farm in the mountains of Freehill where husband and wife team Chris and Lisa Binns offer tours and serve up fresh-picked and delicious lunches and dinners. They also bottle their own dressings and preserves, which probably make the best tasting souvenirs—if you can wait to eat them! If you make it out to the parish of Portland (and we think you should), definitely swing by JuiceIs, a brand-new converted school bus-turned-juice bar launched by raw food trailblazer, Dr. Aris LaTham.
Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee is considered the finest in the world, but only about 5% of it makes its way to the U.S. So even if it's 85 and sunny, you won’t want to pass on a hot cup of this black gold. Instead of milk and sugar, request sweetened condensed milk for the real local taste. Packing your suitcase full of coffee beans so you can replicate the experience back at home won’t be cheap, but it’s worth it. Just be sure to look for the Jamaica Blue Mountain trademark.
Take It Home
Look beyond typical souvenirs and consider investing in a piece of Jamaican art. We're huge fans of emerging Jamaican visual artist, Andre Woolery. The former NYC advertising director now dedicates his waking hours to creating striking works that incorporate mixed mediums and digital elements. You can see his art hanging in the National Gallery in Kingston or visit his working studio in Chalky Hill. (We also have pieces at The Runaway!)
As a couple of former New Yorkers, trust us when we tell you that island time is a real thing. Accept it, love it, lean into it (or lean back?). If someone says to you "Soon come" they are not coming soon, so don't hold your breath. If you ask for directions and you're informed that the destination is "Just down the road," it's not. Put on your walking shoes and get ready for a nice stroll. You're on vacation. What's the rush?
After living here full-time, setting up a home and establishing a business, we can’t say enough about in-person conversations and word of mouth recommendations. Same goes for your Jamaican vacation. Don’t expect to do all of your research online. Ask around at your hotel. Even if you only have access to folks in the tourism industry, ask them what they do for fun, where they go on days off. More than likely, the awesome taxi driver you find or the hidden waterfall you climb will be the result of personal connections.