Marcus Samuelsson for The Rockhouse Foundation
What would you say Ethiopia and Jamaica have in common? A whole lot more after Sunday, December 29 when Ethiopian-born chef Marcus Samuelsson hosted an Ethopian-Jamaican fusion four-course meal for the annual Rockhouse Foundation’s Benefit Dinner! The dinner took place at the iconic Miss Lily’s’ restaurant’s new outpost in Negril, in none other than Skylark, the newly opened spunky younger-sister property of Rockhouse.
The evening’s menu was a face-off between the two countries’ cuisines, but the real winning ticket was the over- J$4 million (US$30,000) raised by guests for the Rockhouse Foundation’s initiative to improve education in western Jamaica.
At sunset, 100 guests sipped on Gyaltego Bay and Dutty Wine rum cocktails, cooled down with Sky Juice alcoholic shave dice, and munched on reinterpreted international dishes, such as a lobster roll served on a warm coco bread and a smoked marlin summer roll served with a spicy peanut sauce. The hors d’oeuvres menu was designed by the evening’s co-collaborator, Jamaica’s own Andre Fowler, executive chef for Miss Lily’s restaurants and two-time winner of the Food Network’s Chopped.
For the main course, Samuelsson had no question in his mind that the menu needed to start off paying homage to Jamaica’s seafood. A local red snapper grilled on the open fire was served with a paella made with coconut rice and peas and squid, crab, clams and shrimp aptly called “ocean rice and peas.”
“There’s incredible seafood in Jamaica that should be highlighted, so of course that’s what we started with,” said the six-time James Beard-winning chef, who took time off from his award-winning Harlem-based restaurant Red Rooster to travel to Negril with his wife and young son.
After visiting the Rockhouse and Negril for over 15 years, Samuelsson has developed a deep love for Jamaica and its culture. “Negril is a special place to me. I came here 15 years ago and now I have brought all of my friends; some have gotten married here, and now I want my son to know it.”
The main dish of the evening reflected his belief that Jamaica and Ethiopia share an incredible connection. The chef interpreted goat two ways, one in the Jamaican fashion of a slow-simmer curry, and also in the Ethopian fashion with goat roasted over the fire in a jerk-berbere sauce. The dishes were served family-style, heightening the intimate feel of the evening.
“Our countries share so much in common: talented people, a rich culture, a love for music,” he mentioned, waving a hand in acknowledgement of the Silver Birds Steel Orchestra, the calypso band that provided the melodic backdrop for the evening.
But Jamaica and Ethiopia share more in common than this. Samuelsson also relates to the hard economic circumstances in Jamaica that too often limits the potential of the citizenry. “I came from humble beginnings in a hut in Ethiopia and I can relate to the tough environment Jamaica and Ethiopia share, and I want to be able to help….sometimes all you need is a little extra help,” he expressed.
This ethos is shared by the Rockhouse Foundation, which is celebrating 15 years of transforming the places where Jamaica’s children learn, and supports the people who teach them. The foundation has invested over J$700 million (US$5 million) to build, transform and modernise six local schools, in addition to the renovation and expansion of the Negril Community Library.
Donors, guests and the underwriting of the night’s expenses by Rockhouse, Skylark and Miss Lily’s helped to raise over J$4 million (US$30,000) which will be put towards expanding the Sav-Inclusive, a school supporting students with disabilities.