American televangelist Joel Osteen often says that “every setback is a set up for a greater comeback”. And United Kingdom-based Barbadian chef Jason Howard, currently back home for the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association’s Art of Cuisine 2017 – Barbados Meets the World culinary festival, is living testimony of that.
Jason was born and raised in Barbados and received his initial culinary training here. However, after the tragic loss of his home to fire, he relocated to England in 2009, and it was there that he began to make a mark.
“After I arrived in London, I took my first job. I had worked in Barbados as a sous chef, and I quickly realized I was a bit more stable than I thought,” he recalled.
Jason advanced quite quickly, going on to work for Hélène Darroze, an internationally recognized restaurant.
“This was the opportunity to get into a Michelin Star restaurant without any prior training. I eventually became a manager so I was actually managing kitchens and doing recipes.”
Jason attributes his success in the UK to the training he received in Barbados.
“Based on how quickly I was able to advance in that market without any further training there, I know Barbados has some of the best chefs in the world! And, from my experience, no one else in the world, including the [rest of the] Caribbean, can season meat like Barbadians. Anywhere we go, we stand out because our flavours are so great.”
After three years with Helen de Rose, Jason started seeking out other Caribbean chefs in London with a view to promoting the region’s cuisine. However, he found they were not up to the standard he was looking for, so he branched out on his own.
“I started doing pop-ups in England and they were very successful. Since then, I have travelled all over the world, including trips to Spain, Johannesburg, and Cape Town in South Africa, and I am planning a trip to Japan. These pop-ups involve dinners for small groups, usually six to 12 people, and people are bringing me to these places just to showcase what Caribbean people can do,” he told Barbados TODAY.
Regarding the BHTA’s event this week, Jason said he believes it is a good opportunity for Barbados to show off that it is the culinary capital of the Caribbean.
“We have won lots of awards, but we need to do more work, and this for me means giving Barbadian chefs more exposure to international chefs, holding seminars where they can learn about food trends and how the market is evolving,” he said.
Jason is a passionate advocate for the use of indigenous ingredients, including some which, in his words, have been “lost to history”.
Citing an example, he said: “When I was in Spain, I saw a plant that looked like the Shak Shak we see at the side of the road in Barbados, and the people were eating the seeds as a snack.”
The chef also spoke of some rare items found locally, including four varieties of sea parsley, which are good for lowering cholesterol levels and purifying the blood. He said there was also a plant in Barbados that was considered poisonous, but when its seed was roasted, it could be used as a coffee substitute.
Jason contended that Barbadians should promote the organic nature of local food more extensively.
“One local tomato has in as many nutrients as six that I would purchase in the UK, and people are willing to pay more for an item that will benefit them from a health perspective,” he noted.
His overall goal is to become the world’s first Caribbean chef, to obtain the Michelin Star, a significant honour in European culinary circles.
“I am spearheading the effort to show the world what Caribbean cuisine is all about and what Caribbean chefs can do, and to receive the Michelin Star would be a great achievement, not only for the Caribbean but Barbados especially, and I am willing to take part in any initiative aimed at promoting the use of local produce.”