There’s a picture on the wall of Louise Bennett.
Not Bob Marley. Louise Bennett, a Jamaican poet and folklorist.
“She is the first iconic female to take the language of Jamaica global,” Shawn Fearon said. “She paved the way for Bob Marley. I have a soft spot in my heart for females, because I grew up with a single mom. I appreciate talented, hardworking women.”
The art on the walls, which shows Jamaica’s Blue Mountain, Dunn’s River Falls, a bobsled team, cricket and the Reggae Boys tells a story of Jamaica, he says.
Fearon, a Jamaican-born chef who cut his teeth on Mackinac Island, is preparing to open Kingston Kitchen, a scratch Jamaican restaurant, on Central Park Drive in Okemos. He hopes to be open the first week in October.
“It’s going to be an open concept kitchen,” Fearon said. “I will be cooking with my chefs. That’s the fun. I love getting up and coming into my kitchen.”
The menu is plentiful. For instance, there’s three cheese ackee dip served with plantain chips.
Ackee is a fruit-like vegetable. It’s also one of the main ingredients of Jamaica’s national dish, ackee and saltfish. Fearon says it’s delicate to handle.
“My uniqueness is going to be the way I infuse Jamaican flavors into American cuisine,” Fearon said. “For example, I’ll have some American food, but it’s flavored with Jamaican.”
Dishes like Jerk chicken fettucine alfredo and West Indies sirloin and Irie macaroni and cheese, which is available with Jerk chicken or pork.
“Irie, in my country, means ‘everything is good,’ Fearon said. “When you go anywhere and someone asks how are you, one word comes out of your mouth – irie.”
There’s also patwah pork chops.
“My native language is Patwah,” Fearon said. “Patwah means broken English. I’m going to have patwah pork chops, which is seared pork chops, topped with carmelized walnuts and pineapple chutney.”
Fearon is one of nine children, raised by a single mother. The rest of his family is still in Jamaica.
His first job out of high school was at a hospital where he worked in the kitchen, delivering food to wards among other things. About a year in, he started to learn to cook and realized he loved it.
The food he cooked was all vegetarian.
“Unless you had a medical reason to consume meat, we did not cook meat,” Fearon said. “It was a Seventh Day Adventist institution.”
He attended a vocational culinary school for a year, got his certificate, then applied for a work exchange summer program to come to America to work for the summer.
“You have no control of where you are going,” Fearon said. “I came to the U.S., and went straight to Mackinac Island for the summer. I was thinking it was going to be like Texas, not knowing Mackinac on April 28 was freezing.
“I came here with what I had on, and I’m a big guy. I couldn’t afford to buy clothes. I came here with what was about $30 in American money.”
But he came to work, and that’s what he did.
“I was a working fool,” Fearon said. “I was working non-stop, doing three different jobs.”
He started his day in the morning as a cook Patrick Sinclair’s Irish Pub and worked until about 3 p.m. Then he changed and went to work as a server, which he did until about 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.
In Jamaica, the sun goes down around 5 p.m., and it’s pitch dark by 6 p.m., Fearon said. On Mackinac Island, when he got out of work in the evening, his watch said 9 p.m., but the sun was still out. So, he got a construction job that went until about 11 p.m.
When his work visa expired in 2004, he went back to school in Jamaica. He worked under several chefs. Then came back to the U.S. in December of 2007 on the same work exchange program.
He’s been in Michigan ever since.
“Shawn is so full of personality, and sometimes, in the kitchen, that can be a quality you don’t see enough,” said Tony Brodeur. “Just a great attitude and fun personality. If he knows the song that’s on the radio, he sings it.”
Brodeur is the owner of Huron Street Pub and Grill and a partner in and general manager of The Mustang, both on Mackinac Island. Fearon worked for him for the better part of three summers and one winter.
“Once we opened (Huron Street Pub and Grill), I think it was close to about 70 days in, we had to force him to take a day off. He is a worker.”
When he decided to open his own restaurant, Fearon knew he wanted to bring an experience, a look at, a taste of what Jamaican hospitality is, to this area.
He plans to source as much of his menu as he can locally, but some of it, the Jamaican ingredients, will have to come from Chicago.
Among the Jamaican foods he’ll offer are jerk chicken, smoked jerk chicken, oxtail, curried goat, escovitch fish and coconut curry chicken.
“I’m a fusion guy,” Fearon explained. “I like to fuse food from all over, so to single out a particular dish, it would be very difficult. I kind of consider myself one of these people where I sense that people’s palates are always changing, so you kind of have to change your mindset of creating dishes to go along with those palates.”
Patrons will also be able to experience authentic, unblended, Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee.
“No other coffee in the world grows higher than blue mountain coffee,” Fearon said. “It is known for being the smoothest coffee.”
Brodeur says Fearon handles classic American fare well and, the few times he tried his Jamaican dishes, they were delicious.
“Shawn’s attitude and work ethic are going to definitely help him greatly in his new endeavor,” he said. “Now that I know he’s going to be opening up there, I’m going to have to make a road trip.”
Fearon can’t wait to start.
“For me, I think what I love most is when somebody eats and they say, ‘man, this is good,'” Fearon said. “Whether I created it or not, the fact that I cooked that dish, physically made the dish, that’s where my joy lies. I take pride in the guest being happy because you know you did it right.”