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by Sandra Downes
You will find neither Diploma, Certificate nor Degree in Culinary Arts hanging on a wall at Kerryn ‘Jah Knox’ Carter’s home – because he has none to show. But with years of cooking experience under his belt, he moved from selling ‘ital food’ from his Spring Garden, St. Michael home to become a chef in England.
Carter attended St. Stephens Primary and after getting into Ellerslie Secondary, he chose Metal Work over Home Economics “because back then, the boys didn’t want that girlie stigma attached to them.”
After leaving school it seemed like everyone he knew was either joining the Police or Defence Force, “but I turned rasta and went into farming. I used to grow savannah grass and sell to people, along with peanuts and pineapples.”
It was during those early days of being a rastafarian that the support of his mother Shirley Burnett, cousin Kenrick Austin, other relatives and close friends meant the world to him. “They stuck with me through good and bad.”
The avid walker also restored antique furniture for a while before moving on to what he’d always loved – cooking. “In my 20s, I started cooking ital food. I used to sell it from my mother’s house on Saturdays, and people from all over would come to buy Jah Knox ital food.”
Raised in a ‘family home’ where his uncle and grandmother were good cooks, he and his siblings did all the prepping. “We had to do all the peeling, grating and making butter for gran… but we couldn’t touch that pot. So that eagerness to get to the pot is what made me what I am today,” he recounted.
Modelling also provided a secondary income stream for Carter, but “having locks was like a scorn back then.” He got into modelling because his younger brother Neil used to do it and one day “someone approached me about taking some pictures. They came out all right,” he joked.
Later, his friend Lisa Parris told him about Hugh Williams, so Carter joined his modelling agency.
“We would do photo shoots for stores and fashion designers, to showcase their clothes on the hotel circuit or at fashion shows.” He was working with persons like Antonio Forte and Alpha Jackman at the time.
But there was one store which “refused to let me in to do the mannequins, and they didn’t want me to advertise their clothes. I became a rastafarian because I saw it as the best way to promote myself as a black man. As a rastaman, that made me a stronger person, so Idecided I didn’t want anything from anybody.”
Additionally, “a lot of my friends were leaving Barbados. Some were unemployed, and some had no ambition. I felt it was time to leave, and I wanted a change.” So out of frustration and that need for change, Carter migrated at 29 years old. “I just came here to see the place,” he said, but instead, he met someone and got married soon after.
“I didn’t feel like studying, so I thought I would try with one of my hobbies. Although I never worked in a restaurant in Barbados, I thought I would cook.”
Coincidentally, while in Bath (England) one day, he saw a man who used to run a restaurant in Barbados. During their chat, Carter mentioned that he wanted to work in a kitchen to see “how it would be before I put myself out there as a chef.” That person knew the Head Chef at a restaurant called The Glass Boat and they took Carter on as a porter. “When I went on as a porter, I really went spying to see how everything in a kitchen worked. I don’t like to fail, so I was doing my homework first,” he laughed.
Pretty soon, after completing his washing up and cleaning duties, he was “prepping fish and showing the other staff how to do things.
They realized I was more interested in food than porter work,” and Carter began seeing his name on the roster beside the chefs, with additional duties assigned to him. He then took over breakfast, which was “one of the biggest breakfasts in Bristol,” then lunch. He eventually became “veg chef”, responsible for soups, sauces, vegetables and vegetarian dishes.
As time went on, he worked other places and met and cooked for several persons whom he would not have ordinarily.
One was Haile Selassie’s granddaughter, while working as a chef at Fairfield House. Haile Selassie lived there while in exile and left it to the ethnic people of Bath. “A lot of Barbadians
came there for three course meals every Monday and Friday,” the chef explained.
Then came The 7 Shed as head chef, followed by the Cellar Café. On his off-days he travelled to Brixton, London to work at a restaurant which had no name, but where he cooked for members of Scotland Yard, staff from Channel 4 TV, a former Metropolitan Police Chief and musicians like Dennis Bovell and Linton Kwesi Johnson.
“I enjoyed all of my cooking experiences. At present, I work for the Ministry of Justice at a hostel where ex-convicts spend three months before moving on. Right now, I’m cooking for men who recently came out of prison. I put in the same effort for them that I would for a president. I cook with love – never mind it’s now a profession, the love is still there.”
The assignment most dear to Carter’s heart was a stint at St. James Priory, working with recovering substance abusers.
“It was called Food & Rehab. That was how I got involved with people because part of their therapy was working with the chef. One person per week would be in the kitchen with me; they listen to you and you listen to them and respect them. On the Friday, that person would cook for the whole group, with me monitoring.” What he found fascinating was that the venue was one of the first Anglican churches built by Henry VIII (8th) and the food storeroom was the king’s former vault, where he stored his gold and money.
Socially, migrating proved to be another positive.
“I got more respect as a rastafarian here. My locks were never a burden in England.” Though he is aware that racism exists, “my path has been an easy one. I’ve never been harassed by the police or anything,” he added.
The only two incidents he could recall happened on the same day, while returning from a trip to Barbados. A customs officer at the airport thought he was a drug dealer and informed him that he “was looking at 12 years in Brixton Prison for carrying liquid cocaine.” That ‘liquid cocaine’ was really a bottle of essence, so Carter demanded a private analysis of the contents and remained at the airport practically “the whole day,” awaiting the results.
While there, a senior officer – whom he did not know – passed through the holding area and invited him to tour the facility. While they were walking “somebody screamed for help and out of nowhere, a policeman rushed toward me.” The senior customs officer intervened and chastised the policeman for not doing his job. “You heard someone shout for help and instead of going to see what’s it about, you’re coming to arrest him?” the officer asked.
The other loves in Carter’s life are liming, listening to music and traveling. “Every chance I get, I go home to Barbados because my mother, daughter and granddaughter still live there.” He has also been to Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Wales.
His son Ezekial is 27, and daughter Alcinda, 37, is a chef at a Barbadian hotel. Carter has been married to Sonia for 28 years.
Now 58, the Bajan declared, “I love both Barbados and England. I enjoy what I do here and the people I have met here… and I like the people in Barbados who I grew up with, so I give thanks and praises. One love!”(SD)