Intuition is the main ingredient in authentic Caribbean cuisine
The culinary traditions of the Caribbean have their origin in intuitive cooking or “feel”. The most common foods associated with the region weren’t born from cookbooks or cooking shows or popularized by the latest influencers or Instagram feeds.
The most popular Caribbean dishes have been the product of an adaptation. The Taino Indians and African Maroons of Jamaica originally used Jamaican jerk seasoning as a preservative. The national barbadian neck-neck dish, made with cornmeal and okra or ocher (which came to the region from Africa) usually associated with flying fish, became popular during the early colonial period due to its affordability, and bears a striking resemblance to the Ghanaian Banku.
The intuitive Caribbean cuisine was designed on the first Native American establishments, in the heart of West Africa, on transatlantic slave ships, in the migration of Chinese and Indian contract workers, through Syrian merchant migrations and accentuated by British, Spanish, Dutch and Danish colonial influences. . The earliest Caribbean food paths were rooted in struggle and – in resilience – and despite the advent of technology, Caribbean culinary traditions remain in the most authentic places, in DNA and in the souls of the Caribbean.
Intuitive cooking in its purest form uses seasonal ingredients, does not depend on a well-stocked pantry, and is both thoughtful and ‘heartfelt’. No room for fad diets, strict recipes or ultra-processed packaged meals. Creativity, innovation and ingenuity are all born here.
“Cooking from an intuitive point of view allows our cuisine to express itself on a daily basis based on what is available,” says Chef Digby Strideron, a contemporary Caribbean chef from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands.
Seasonal ingredients and regional recipes inspire Strideron, “bringing out” his creativity and allowing him to “grow with” his cuisine. He has spent the last decade as a picker, “chasing flavors and stories” and says “focusing on the technique and ideology behind the recipes is more important than creating the same dish. again and again in the same way.”
“Being intuitive in the kitchen allows me to tap into the creative process behind the kitchen and express who I am,” says Strideron. “Traditionally, intuitive cooking made sense because our ancestors had to trust what was in season, what they were able to hunt or conserve. These things have changed everyday but the cuisine has stayed and as all recipes continue to change, understanding why is the most important part.
While culinary traditions are a form of cultural heritage, the culinary ingenuity that has spread through modern times has drawn on the spirit of Caribbean ingenuity and resilience, creating space for healers. , top-of-the-range chefs as well as diasporic and foreign interpretations.
Chef Sherri Hillman is no ordinary chef – in fact, she defines herself as a kitchen gypsy. She has traveled the world delighting customers and the public with her ‘back to earth’ perspective on cooking, but says that when she arrived in Barbados in 1990 and the Cayman Islands in 2007, her soul found his home.
During his years in the Cayman Islands, Hillman hosted regular farm-to-table dinners, becoming somewhat of the Tony Robbins of the anti-ultra-transformed movement, evangelizing his guests on the importance of seasonal eating and local and ‘cooking from scratch’.
“When I cook for someone, I cook with my intuition of the moment, my connection to what’s available, and with the intention of providing the healthiest, most delicious meal possible,” says Hillman. “Food is our connection to life and I feel like people have forgotten about it. We have bodies that can heal themselves if they are fed the right food. So few people and doctors share or defend this value. It’s not even something that is taught in schools.
And Jamaican chef Ben Tzedek knows a thing or two about healing through food.
Tsedek is a Rastafarian vegan chef, organic farmer, medical qigong practitioner, and African bio-mineral balance practitioner who commutes between the Mandeville Hills in Jamaica and his farm in Boca Raton, Florida.
“You don’t have to take a life to sustain a life,” says Tsedek, who attributes to the Yoruba perspective of ace a life force that can be found in the food we eat. “If I eat a pumpkin, I don’t have to kill the pumpkin plant. My food has no karmic debt.
Former owner of Kingston’s popular raw vegan restaurant Firelight, Tsedek believes in the ‘power of the sun’ to cook his food and points out that “if people listened to their bodies and cooked accordingly, they would eat in harmony with their genetic predisposition. and prevent or cure ailments.
Tsedek says his intuitive process of cooking his soups and other popular dishes helps with cleansing, digestion and regeneration. Its favorite ingredients are all found in the context of its natural environment and include pumpkin, green bananas, green beans, okra, amaranth, green onions, thyme and sea foam, the latter of which says. -it, “naturally strengthens and harmonizes the elements in the pot.”
And just as intuitive cooking connects with energy and life force, it also connects with ancestral and family traditions.
Stephanie Ramlogan knows this concept all too well. As a Trinidadian living in New York City, she reconnects with home by putting her own twist on familiar dishes, using diasporic flavors and spices that are available and ‘speak’ to her.
“I didn’t learn to cook, I just inherited my mother’s gentle hand,” she laughs. “My mom is a fantastic chef and I’ve never seen her follow a recipe. I remember when I was a kid asking her how she remembered all the measurements and she said she made them up as she went along.
Living in the United States, Ramlogan learned to improvise on what she saw her mother do in her kitchen in Trinidad. Using taste and smell as a barometer, she got used to substituting American ingredients in her “classic” Trinidadian dishes and began working on a diaspora-inspired cookbook.
“I gathered recipes for Trinbagonian dishes that I cook in New York City, using substitutes,” she explains. “I playfully call it like Trini cooks for people abroad, and as an example, for one of the recipes, I imagined my mother’s voice telling a 21 year old how to prepare Palau over the phone. The book is intended as a place where cooking enthusiasts can come to share, laugh and learn. It’s not just about having recipes, but also stories about Caribbean cuisine and how I have adapted to life abroad when all I want is is macaroni pie and red bean stew.
Intuitive cooking techniques have permeated Caribbean life.
Take bush cooking, for example. Imagine it – no controls, no heat settings, no scale, no timer – just pull. And whether it’s a pot of corn soup on a flame, with a bubbling mishmash of coconut milk, corn, pumpkin, scotch bonnet and herbs by the side of the road, or breadfruit buried in hot sand while dead leaves crackle in the embers above your head – it’s not cooking with your head, but with your heart. And it’s ready to eat, not with the buzz of a timer, but when the chef says so.
The authentic Caribbean palace was born and continues to be guided by the seasons, the senses, creativity, migration and survival. Whether it’s the Pepperpot of Guyana, the Ackee and Saltfish of Jamaica, the Oil Down of Trinidad or the variety of whole foods and techniques that have been introduced to the New World there is For hundreds and thousands of years, intuitive cooking has been essential to cultural survival and resilience that is threatened by the massive influx of imported and ultra-processed foods into the region.
Nourishing the body must also nourish the soul.