The main mission of this newly formed chapter is to certify as many local chefs as possible
By Amelia Levin
As noted in the November-December issue of National Culinary Review’s Chapter Close-Up article, the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation’s Tourism Enhancement Fund was established to train and elevate the status of Jamaican chefs to support the local economy.
“Many culinary jobs at major hotels and resorts in the country go to chefs from other countries, rather than from Jamaica,” says Carol Rose Brown, head of the fund. “We also need to teach others about Jamaican cuisine properly, and that needs to be done by professionals.”
Case in point: Many non-Jamaicans think “jerk” is a sauce, but in fact, it’s a technique. “‘Jerk’ means a piece of chicken or meat that has been seasoned overnight using pepper, pimento and scallions, then covered with foil and smoked by burning pimento tree branches,” Brown says. “Most people also don’t realize that we have some of the best coffee and chocolate in the world here, and we have amazing produce, fruit and seafood.”
Since its inception in 2017, the Fund has allowed the Jamaica Centre of Tourism to test about 150 candidates, including students and professionals, for certification. Most recently, prior to COVID-19, the Fund was able to certify evaluators locally, cutting down on the need for ACF chef-evaluators in the U.S. to have to regularly travel to Jamaica to conduct certification testing. This came in handy during the pandemic, when global travel was severely limited.
Brown says her team reached out to the ACF after researching institutions that focus on culinary certification and determining it was the most respected standard of culinary excellence worldwide. The tourism department worked with ACF Evaluator Chef John Schopp, CEC, CPEC, CCE, CCA, who traveled regularly to Jamaica to oversee certification testing, and, more recently, train evaluators there.
“The program in Jamaica is a very admirable model for international countries, even for the United States,” Chef Schopp says. “The Jamaican government values hospitality certification; there is no reason Jamaican-born nationals shouldn’t be in charge of running a major hotel kitchen there. The government has been very focused on believing in local culinarians, holding them accountable and giving them access to the highest level of professional culinary development.”
Schopp adds that he personally seeks out certified individuals when hiring for his staff, and makes a point to encourage ongoing certification to retain a strong team. “When I invest in my team — helping pay for and support exams, and encouraging people to get to the next level — I find my kitchen runs on autopilot because I don’t have to constantly teach everyone basic skills and my team is more organized and dedicated. This saves me money in the long run.”
Schopp has been working to update the nature of the certification exams in Jamaica to test individuals on their knowledge of local ingredients, versus the hard-to-find, European-centric ingredients on which most of the exam questions are centered.
“Getting live oysters is nearly impossible in Jamaica, but the best cooks in Jamaica know how to work with conch and banana flowers or open a coconut with a machete and work with it,” he says. “These are things American chefs wouldn’t necessarily know, so we are working to account for those localized, technical skills.”
Brown says her team will continue to push for more certification testing and expand the testing to more parts of Jamaica so there’s less travel required. That has included sending mobile vans throughout the country to administer the tests. Anyone who signs up to take the test automatically becomes a member of the ACF Jamaica chapter to get additional support. The next round of testing is currently scheduled for March.