For most travelers, a journey to Jamaica means indulging in sun,
sand and surf, along with the opportunity to relax in one of the
most paradisiacal climates on earth. But relatively few consider
Jamaica’s rich and colorful native culture, born from its unique
location and diverse history, which over the centuries has led to
the creation of a distinctly delicious local gastronomy.
The intermingling of Western, Eastern and native culinary
traditions in combination with local ingredients has produced a
flavorful fusion cuisine found nowhere else. European settlers
improvised versions of their traditional diet utilizing native
crops, while valuable spices of the Orient made stopovers here,
leaving an indelible imprint of Asian and Indian cooking techniques
on the island.
Until recently, some of the gems of Jamaican cuisine have
remained well-kept secrets known only to locals, while visitors to
many resorts which cater to Americans and Europeans have been
presented only with more familiar fare. Now, international
gourmands and local producers alike are taking an active interest
in promoting these treasures to the rest of the world.
Industry giant Sandals Resorts took the lead in 1992 by bringing
in chef Walter Staib, one of the foremost experts on Jamaican
cuisine, to reconceive food and beverage operations at Sandals and
Since the mid-1980s, Staib has immersed himself in the history
and methodology of Jamaican cuisine, researching the roots of local
culinary traditions at the University of the West Indies in
Kingston. He delved into working alongside authentic Jamaican cooks
in jerk huts and food stalls at Faith’s Pen, in the Blue Mountains
and St. Elizabeth, and even out in the remote bush, preparing
Sunday dinner in local homes. Indigenous ingredients are equally as
important to dishes as preparation, and so his education also
included visiting markets, fruit and spice orchards and molasses,
rum and coffee plantations.
Thanks to Staib’s efforts and the commitment of Sandals’ founder
and chairman Gordon “Butch” Stewart, the inclusion of authentic
Jamaican cuisine is now an integral part of the Sandals experience
at its seven Jamaica properties.
Since the island’s climate and fertile soil can support the
cultivation of nearly any crop, all of the food needed by the
resorts is grown by local farmers, giving growers a steady flow of
employment. As a result, fruits and vegetables at the hotels’
dining facilities are incredibly fresh, with the deepest colors and
richest flavors possible.
While Jamaican resorts are endeavoring to introduce
international visitors to the local cuisine, Jamaica-based
companies are working to bring some Caribbean flavor to
Walkerswood Caribbean Foods is one such uniquely successful
local producer of specialty Jamaican cooking sauces, spices,
seasonings, preserves and canned vegetables.
Founded in 1978 through the efforts of a small group of locals
to bring employment to their rural community near Ocho Rios,
Walkerswood initially sold traditionally jerked meats to local
restaurants. As visitors to the island began to acquire a taste for
this flavorful and spicy fare, demand for the seasonings spurred
Walkerswood to become the first company to bottle and export jerk
seasoning from Jamaica.
Now, the employee-owned company exports a line of 20 authentic
products to the United States, U.K. and Canada, each made with
ingredients grown on the Walkerswood grounds. Visitors are welcome
at the production facility, which features a new visitor’s center,
gift shop and eatery, along with “Jerk Country Tours” of its
gardens and factory, and will soon offer on-site cooking
Concepts by Staib: www.staib.com
Sandals Resorts: www.sandals.com