Miami’s Jamaica King Jerk Opens Permanent Spot in North Dade

Food truck owner Oratio Garrell scrimped and saved for six years to get together enough money to open a brick-and-mortar spot to serve his smoky jerk chicken and pork.

When his eatery King Jerk finally opened at 14821 W. Dixie Hwy., the centerpiece was a $5,000 hybrid grill/smoker that was hardly used before thieves snatched it out of the parking lot surrounding Garrell’s new bright-red restaurant.

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“They iced me,” Garrell says. Crooks in balaclavas came with a ladder and could be seen on security cameras climbing up to cover the lenses in black spray paint to cover their tracks before making off with the grill.

“I hadn’t even had a chance to start practicing with the smoker yet,” he says.

But Garrell, who simply goes by Jay, is used to hardship. He began cooking at the age of 11 with his cousin Ayende James at a roadside jerk spot in Montego Bay’s St. James neighborhood. “It was either get into trouble or find something productive to do,” he says.

That first summer, he was responsible for cleaning and cutting up hundreds of birds. But before his cousin would trust him with the family jerk recipe, Garrell had to prove himself with another Jamaican classic: brown stew chicken. The ubiquitous island dish features chicken parts seared and finished in a pungent brew of hot sauce, ketchup, and scallions seasoned with garlic and thyme.

“It took me a few weeks, but I nailed it,” Garrell says.

Not long after that, he persuaded his cousin to fork over the secret jerk formula. Garrell then spent years perfecting it. He toyed with ingredients and proportions while holding down odd jobs in Jamaica and then in Flushing, Queens, when he moved there at the age of 19. A brutal commute to a warehouse job and long hours proved to be good training. Because he had time to cook only on weekends, he had to learn how to quickly prepare hefty batches of jerk chicken. The four years he spent there gave him his best trick: marinating the birds in his family’s jerk recipe for days at a time.

In 2008, he moved to Miami. The warmer weather is easier on the scar that zigzags across his skull. It’s a souvenir from a New York mugging, he says. Three years later, he had saved the $1,700 needed to finance a food truck and finally begin cooking again.

When he opened in 2012, it quickly became clear Garrell’s hybrid technique of standard grilling and slow barbecue was a success. The hour cook time results in meat that’s juicy and with a flavor reminiscent of the smoke ring found in the best barbecue. The skin takes on a slight crisp but is still thick with the seasoning, which isn’t too spicy and doubles as a kind of dipping sauce.

Don’t worry, though. Garrell’s jerk chicken is still available at his mobile truck near Opa-locka and at his new spot. His replacement grill and smoker should be ready in late August, when he’ll begin dishing out ribs and brisket on sandwiches and by the pound.

King Jerk
14821 W. Dixie Hwy., Miami; 305-300-9682.

Source: http://www.miaminewtimes.com/restaurants/aventura-mall-food-hall-to-include-todd-english-concept-shake-shack-local-favorites-9789059

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Have you tried Jamaica’s First Kosher Restaurant?

Jamaica has its first kosher restaurant.

“Your one stop for everything Jewish in Jamaica”

Chabad Of Jamaica opened the first Kosher Hot Spot & Welcome Center in Jamaica, on the famous Montego Bay Hip strip right across Margaritaville. It is your one stop for everything Jewish, from kosher authentic Israeli falafel (a vegetarian food) to synagogue services.

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The menu at the Kosher Hot Spot is tightly focused: There’s falafel (in a pita sandwich or a salad), french fries (with various spice options), tehina, and the famous Jerk Falafel. Here’s what there’s not: dairy or meat. The Restaurant- Kosher Hot Spot is completely vegetarian. The restaurant seats 16, and has a standing counter.

In addition to the Kosher Hot Spot, Chabad has a online Kosher Take Out service. Make your order in advance from a large variety of scrumptious foods and have it delivered directly to the resort of your choice. You can also choose to pick up your order from the Kosher Hot Spot location. Check it out at www.jewishjamaica.com/kosher

Currently Chabad’s synagogue is located at a House in Ironshore near four major resorts, Zoetry, Sandals royal Caribbean, Riu Montego Bay, and Holiday inn. In instances where large groups will be attending, Chabad travels and rents a larger room at a Hotel or Villa. please feel free to contact us in advance.

 

 

Portland (USA) Just Got Four New Jamaican Restaurants

Just a few years ago, not a single restaurant in Portland called itself Jamaican. This town’s never exactly been a hotbed of Caribbean culture; there are nearly three times as many Jamaicans in Brooklyn as on the entire West Coast.

But there are signs that Caribbean culture is finally making small inroads into our corner of the Northwest—with the number of Portlanders from the West Indies more than doubling between 2010 and the most recent census stats in 2013. And the food scene is keeping pace: Four new Jamaican spots have opened up in a little over a year, all in North and Northeast Portland.

The breadth of their menus varies considerably, from six items to 40, but everyone serves jerk chicken, Jamaica’s sweet-hot barbecue plate slathered in the country’s trademark jerk sauce made with allspice and Scotch bonnet, usually served up with slaw, rice and beans.

We decided to stop by and sample Portland’s newfound tropical bounty.


Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine
441 N Killingsworth St., 503-289-1423\(Mark Dario)

(Mark Dario)

When Jamaica-born Keacean Ransom first opened her Jamaican Homestyle Cuisine food cart in 2014, there wasn’t a single Jamaican spot in Portland; before that, she’d been cooking out of her home for barber shops and hair salons.

Since last summer, Homestyle is a brick-and-mortar jerk shack, with sweet-spicy smoke spilling out of a barrel smoker in front of her tiny brickface storefront next to the Florida Room. Ransom’s almost always in attendance—and on our last visit she was repping Jamaican colors all the way down to her pair of bright green-and-yellow Nikes.

The shop is bare bones, and the service sometimes diffident—above reggae rhythms, our soundtrack on a recent visit was an argument with a customer over a coupon—but the offerings are the most consistently flavorful and satisfying among all the four Jamaican eateries, especially an oxtail plate ($17) whose tender meat was beautifully caramelized into its plummy sauce, and a rich goat curry. Plantains served on the side were lightly crisped into the barest fruit-sugar shell, a bit airier than most renditions.

And then there’s the jerk. Jerk sauce at its best is an indelicate balance of intense sweet and hot flavors, and among all the Jamaican spots in town, Homestyle is the most blessedly liberal with Scotch-bonnet heat alongside that sweetness and allspice—not to mention the deep smoke flavor on its jerk chicken quarter ($6), pinkness seeping into the moist meat. Sit out on the patio, and let that sweet heat seep into your pores.

Jamaica House
8307 N Ivanhoe St., 503-462-9710, jamaicahousepdx.com.

In the former Baowry in St. Johns, Jamaica House chef Simba Puma might be in the kitchen cooking up jerk. Or it’s possible that the lifelong Rastafarian—who grew up in Saint Ann Parish, birthplace of Bob Marley—might be out in the house’s side yard pounding keys with funk-rock-reggae group the Roaring Lions.

Inside, Jamaica House’s elbow-bar space feels a bit improvised, with a sparse smattering of small tables in odd corners. On our visit, they were still waiting on their license to serve the liquor stored behind the bar, and when we ordered the tofu our server paused. “Are you sure you want the tofu?” he asked, expectantly. Yes, we said–only to see him run out to the store for a tofu run, in an admirable bit of hustle.


Yaad-Style Jamaican Cuisine
3532 NE Martin Luther King Boulevard, 503-432-8066, yaadstylejamaicancuisine.com

Yaad-Style Jamaican Cuisine is a spacious, sparse-walled spot on Martin Luther King Boulevard near Fremont, with walls that alternate between brick and bare yellow and green, plus a small tutorial in Jamaican patois on the wall by the door. The two-month-old eatery offers a vast menu, but on a Thursday at lunchtime, this involved a long list of the things we could not have, including most of the patties on offer.

Too bad. The one patty they did have—a veggie patty flown in from New York—was the one in Portland I’d heartily recommend. (At least two spots seemed to be using the same brand of orange patty.) But this veggie patty? It was crisp-doughed, hearty and popping with heat and flavor. It was a perfect spiced-veggie Hot Pocket. Always trust Brooklyn when it comes to patties, apparently.

But on our visit, the friendly, solitary staffer seemed a bit overwhelmed. The jerk wings ($10 for seven) were decent if a bit soggy, and the goat in their curry was unfortunately overcooked and a bit dry, requiring healthy gulps of Ting soda, essentially the refreshing Jamaican answer to Jarritos grapefruit.

Jamaican Jerk
1540 N Killingsworth St., 971-222-4526.

(Liz Allan)
(Liz Allan)

Just 20 blocks down Killingsworth from Jamaican Homestyle, Michael Dell and Cedric Stewart—who comes from Montego Bay, Jamaica—smoke up jerk chicken and pork out of a trellised green-and-white cart right across the street from Hat Yai.

(Liz Allan)
(Liz Allan)

only a month old, they’re the newest of any of the Jamaican eateries, and somehow already the busiest among our visits.

While the jerk sauce didn’t match the satisfying, earthy notes of Jamaica House’s sauce in St. Johns, the chicken itself has a deeper jerk flavor than at any of the other spots, seasoned all the way down to the bone.

(Liz Allan)(Liz Allan)

The wings achieved a perfect caramelized, just-crisp texture, but take note, they’re popular enough that the cart is often out of them; other offerings include fatty slices of jerk pork and a flaky slab of fish. Plantains were a bit dry—as were almost all the Portland plantains, none of which live up to the caramelized perfection of those underripe gourds at the Jamaican Taste pop-up at beer bars around Portland.

But the mood at Jamaican Jerk is lively, with a steady stream of customers unusual for such a new cart—with reggae jamming out of a boom box on the sidetables. Though a cart and not a restaurant, it’s somehow still the best hang: It feels good to sit out here in the sticky Portland heat, dripping extra-hot sauce onto that moist, seasoned jerk chicken while the radio sings the praises of Jah.

(Liz Allan)
(Liz Allan)
Source: http://www.wweek.com/restaurants/2017/08/16/caribbean-starved-portland-just-got-four-new-jamaican-restaurants-we-tried-them-all/

Dub Music: A History of Jamaica’s Criminally Underappreciated Musical Artform

On a balmy late May evening under the stars at Chris Blackwell’s stunning cliffside hotel The Caves in Negril, Jamaica, legendary producer Lee “Scratch” Perry strolls up to the DJ booth and takes the microphone.

For the next 45 minutes Scratch, now 81, his hair and beard dyed cherry-red, freestyles lyrics as DJ (or selector, in Jamaican parlance). Kingston Dub Club owner Gabre Selassie tweaks his mixing console’s controls, manipulating the riddim track, transforming the bass line into a recurring thunderous boom.

The event, part of the inaugural Tmrw.Tday Festival, was called The Dub Cave, nodding to the musical art form Perry helped define. Dub refers to rearranging elements within an existing recording through the isolation of individual instrumental tracks with the addition of various effects to create a new work.

Scratch’s experimentation at the mixing board, particularly at his fabled Black Ark studio in the ’70s, established him as one of the most creative forces in dub. Alongside other visionaries who conducted experiments in their respective studios and on the sound systems that played the music, they created dub, which rose to prominence in Jamaica and internationally during the 1970s.

“Dubbing is a traditional Jamaican sound system vibe; if you go to a dancehall sound system [session] they take out the bass and drop it in as an artist is performing, but they are not dubbing as we would do it. We turn on the bass, turn up the knobs, keeping the craft a little more intricate,” comments Gabre Selassie, whose thoughtfully curated playlist of traditional Rastafarian Nyabinghi chants, classic Jamaican tracks, contemporary roots reggae and powerful dub mixes is heard each Sunday evening at the Kingston Dub Club, located in the hills overlooking the capital city.

“There are different approaches to dubbing,” continues Gabre, who operates the Rockers Sound Station [sound system] started by his mentor, the late producer/musician Augustus Pablo, another pivotal figure in dub’s development. “For example King Jammy [born Lloyd James] tours the world doing live mixes of his own productions; because he produced the song, he has each instrument recorded separately so he can get more detailed in his mixes; I take the actual recorded material as played on a CD, 7-inch or album track and do what mixes I can, so I do dub mixes as if on a sound system, he does mixes as if in the studio.”

When digital reggae came to the fore in the mid-1980s, dub’s popularity diminished in Jamaica; currently, dub is enjoying a renaissance on the island and beyond its shores, whether it’s live dubbing performances in clubs and at music festivals or the rediscovery of classic dub albums by the genre’s forefathers including Scratch, Pablo, Hopeton “Scientist” Brown, Neil “Mad Professor” Fraser, and the man widely credited as dub’s originator, the late Osbourne “King Tubby” Ruddock.

“Dub is a part of Jamaican music’s foundation but needs to be pushed further by the music industry here; next year we plan to involve more of dub’s global players,” comments Kevin Bourke, a co-founder of the Tmrw.Tday Festival, held May 17-23 in Negril. “Dub in its truest form breaks down music then redelivers it in a raw, impactful way, which Gabre did at the Dub Cave and [producer] Teflon Zinc Fence [responsible for reggae star Chronixx’s early hits “Behind Curtain” and “Warrior”] did as our resident dub selector,” says Bourke. “It was amazing to have Scratch, one of dub’s godfathers, perform at the Dub Cave, passing the proverbial torch to the current generation who are carrying on the mission.”

The original practitioners established dub not just as a distinctive reggae offshoot but as a prototype for modern electronic music and its associated practices, including the song remix and the elevation of the producer and/or engineer as the artist.

“Dub’s development revolutionized the entire music business, as we see today, and the creativity and spontaneity in my dad’s recordings are pillars of Jamaican music; some go back almost 50 years, which put him at the forefront of dub,” comments Addis Pablo, son of Augustus Pablo, who introduced the melodica to reggae in the early ’70s and produced numerous groundbreaking instrumental/dub albums including East of the River Nile and King Tubby’s Meets Rockers Uptown, ranked among the finest dub albums ever made.

Dub evolved from the instrumental versions that Kingston producers started issuing circa 1969 as B-sides to vocal releases. The city’s competitive sound system landscape had evolved: no longer did playing exclusive singles yield a sound’s superiority — dominance was now achieved through the multiple versions of a hit song within a sound system operator’s musical arsenal. Therefore a sound man would typically order several copies of the same record from the label/studio, each with a different mix.

The “versions” (instrumentals) provided room for producers and engineers to add further instrumentation and deejays to toast their lyrics (Jamaican deejays are precursors of rappers; deejays initially chatted their lyrics over instrumental breaks on rhythms played by sound system selectors). In 1971, what is widely regarded as the very first dub single appeared: The Hippy Boys’ “Voo Doo” — the “version” to singer Little Roy’s “Hard Fighter,” mixed by Lynford Anderson.

However, it was the brilliant electronics technician turned visionary music engineer King Tubby (born Osborne Ruddick, January 28, 1941) who originally elevated dubbing into a renowned art form. Tubby fixed TVs, radios and various appliances at his home, but he also built and maintained speakers and amplifiers for many sound systems. Producers brought Tubby their master tapes and his fearless audio testing — stripping off instruments from a recording, phasing others to the background, adding echo and reverb — not only expanded dub’s possibilities but was the genesis of the remix, ever present in contemporary production. Dancehall, dubstep, drum and bass and hip-hop all owe a debt to Tubby’s experimentation.

King Tubby’s sonic innovations in his studio and on his sound system King Tubby’s Hometown Hi-Fi fashioned one of the most influential legacies in popular Jamaican music, yet his contributions risk being obscured with each passing year. In 1989, Tubby, 48, was robbed of his licensed firearm and gold chain, then fatally shot in front of his Kingston home; the killer has never been found.

Following his death, Tubby’s family turned away from the music industry. “Tubby’s family got scared after he died and from my personal reasoning with his daughter, none of them wanted to continue on in music, including his brother in Miami who is also a technician,” says Scientist, who apprenticed with King Tubby as a teenager. Like his royal mentor, he graduated from gifted electronics technician to renowned dub mixer.

“King Tubby was the first to use to use the mixing console as an instrument; in dub, the engineer becomes the composer, the arranger, the performer and the artist. If a producer has engineering skills, he can create a dub track, but if he does not understand the set up of the console, then he can only take it to a certain level,” Scientist shared with Billboard in a phone interview from London.

A dub icon in his own right, Scientist has released numerous albums with such futuristic titles as Scientist Meets The Space Invaders and Scientist Rids The World of the Evil Curse of the Vampires, the latter performed in full by Scientist with the Roots Radics Band at the Dub Champions Festival in New York City, 2012.

Scientist brought his superb live mixing skills to the UK’s Glastonbury Festival in June, and he’s doing the same at various dates across Europe and the U.S. this summer, as authentic Jamaican dub seeks to claim its deserved prominent position within the crowded electronic music landscape that it helped spawn.

“Dub has a triangular structure and if you know how to access that structure, you can create mysticism within the listener’s mind,” notes Scientist, offering technical acumen indicative of his name. “It lives longer than the straight [original] cut because the listener never hears dub the same way twice.”

Source: http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/dance/7857092/jamaica-dub-music-reggae-electronic-music

Scotch Bonnet’s New Brick-and-Mortar Location Brings Jamaican Home-Cooking to FiDi

Jamaica native and chef Abraham “OB” Matterson serves up the flavors of his childhood at Scotch Bonnet, a new restaurant in Rincon Center.

We knew we’d landed in the right place when we saw the Jamaican flag flying in the window of the as-yet unadorned Scotch Bonnet space in Rincon Center in downtown San Francisco. Staff were scurrying about filling containers with hot sauce and cleaning up from the lunch rush when Chef OB Matterson walked out, letting us know that we could take photos, but that they were still in the soft-opening phase, so the place was going to get a whole lot prettier. He has colorful art planned for the long white wall parallel to the kitchen that will evoke the feel of Jamaica.

Co-owner and Chef OB Matterson (R) and staff filling containers with Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce.
Co-owner and Chef OB Matterson (R) and staff filling containers with Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce. (Wendy Goodfriend)
Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce
Scotch Bonnet Pepper Sauce (Wendy Goodfriend)

For now, gleaming with that new-kitchen look, the space is abuzz with the small staff multi-tasking at various stations to turn out the beautiful menu items, which currently include plates, burritos, patties and a la carte items full of Jamaican goodness.

Menu at Scotch Bonnet.
Menu at Scotch Bonnet. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Matterson, along with his wife Loris Mattox-Matterson, have owned and operated the popular Scotch Bonnet food truck parked on Sansome Street during weekday lunch, as well as at Off the Grid locations throughout the Bay in regular rotation. Matterson says the food truck will continue, but logistics are up in the air as they establish the new sit-down space.

Scotch Bonnet space in Rincon Center.
Scotch Bonnet space in Rincon Center. (Wendy Goodfriend)

We tried three plates, all of which were exquisitely prepared, bright in flavor and presentation, and deeply satisfying. (Coincidentally, all plates happen to be gluten-free.)

Staff preparing food at Scotch Bonnet.
Staff preparing food at Scotch Bonnet. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Perhaps the most traditional recipe on the menu, jerk chicken is one of those things that looks easy to make, but whose subtle complexity makes it fairly challenging to pull off. Chef OB does so with aplomb, using a secret method that likely involves brining and smoking the chicken after marinating it in a pungent sauce laden with chile, onion and lots of savory spices. The meat is tender and juicy, rich with flavor.

Jerk Chicken at Scotch Bonnet.
Jerk Chicken at Scotch Bonnet. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Curry goat is equally rich, long-stewed in homemade curry sauce with a mild chile kick. You won’t find goat in many places, locally, with the exception of some African and Mexican restaurants. The meat is a bit gamey, like lamb, and tender like some stew cuts of beef, with just enough fat to soften the protein over time.

Curry Goat at Scotch Bonnet.
Curry Goat at Scotch Bonnet. (Wendy Goodfriend)

Lastly, and my surprising favorite, the curry shrimp has a definite current of heat running through it, and the generous portion includes six large shrimp, meltingly tender and perfectly cooked. I ended up taking the sauce home to pour over rice for dinner.

Curry Shrimp at Scotch Bonnet.
Curry Shrimp at Scotch Bonnet. (Wendy Goodfriend)

All plates come with the best fried plantains you’ll find for miles, along with a rice and beans combo and salad.

There’s a selection of imported non-alcoholic drinks, as well as homemade sorrel: sweetened hibiscus tea with ginger.

Scotch Bonnet’s welcome new brick-and-mortar restaurant is a perfect introduction to Jamaican food for the newcomer, as well as a soulful culinary journey for anyone craving a return to the island.

Co-owner and Chef OB Matterson (R).
Co-owner and Chef OB Matterson (R). (Wendy Goodfriend)

Scotch Bonnet
101 Spear St.
San Francisco, CA 94105 [Map]
Ph: (510) 706-0720
Hours: Tues-Sat, seatings at 5:30pm and 8:30pm
Price Range: $ ($9-$13)
Facebook: @scotchbonnet510
Twitter: @scotchbonnet510
Instagram: @scotchbonnet510

Source: https://ww2.kqed.org/bayareabites/2017/10/21/scotch-bonnets-new-brick-and-mortar-location-brings-jamaican-home-cooking-to-fi-di/

Montego Bay Grille in Hobart offers getaway from the norm

“Where great food meets great people” is how Montego Bay Grille in Hobart bills itself.

“Hobart will be a culinary epicenter in not so long from now in the Northwest Indiana region. We pride ourselves on being pioneers in that aspect,” said Teddian Jackson, owner and chef of Montego Bay Grille, about locating downtown.

“Others have been following suit. That’s something we pride ourselves in.”

The staff at Montego Bay Grille, which opened in July, includes front-of-the-house manager Ashley Garner, a Hobart native, and sous chef Rahan Jones, a Jamaican native who now lives in Hobart.

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Teddian Jackson

Here is the dish on this local eatery, which presents live music at least once a week and has become a requested venue for hosting corporate getaways:

On the menu: A Caribbean fusion concept with locally sourced ingredients comprise a large part of the menu, which includes house-made hummus and plantain chips, crab cake, lobster ravioli, coconut shrimp curry, and jerk-style chicken, pork, shrimp and salmon. “Our menu is one page and the reason being is we focus on every dish that is crafted,” said Jackson, a Jamaican who now lives in Hobart. “Everything is made in-house daily from our french fries to our sauces. We don’t carry anything frozen.”

About the owner: “My background has always been in the restaurant industry,” said Jackson, who is a certified executive chef, an approved certification evaluator for the American Culinary Federation and an active member of the Research Chefs Association. He also has been involved with the Hobart Food Pantry since 2014. Jackson’s work experience includes chef positions with casinos in Northwest Indiana, a cruise line in Miami and a resort in Jamaica.

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A mission statement: “What we’re trying to do and what we’ve been doing thus far is to mimic in a certain sense the feel one would get if one were in the Caribbean,” said Jackson. “The over and above of hospitality is what we’re really focused on — not just great food and great drinks but just an overall feel of the atmosphere and the service. This was something that we found lacking in the market so that’s been the niche we need to fill.”

Decor: “It’s quiet. It’s quaint with vibrant colors but not overpowering. It’s a relaxed atmosphere with a subtle presence,” said Jackson of the restaurant, which seats 38 inside and approximately 20 on the back patio.

Specialties: “The jerk preparation is to the Caribbean as barbecue is to the South. It is a non-ambiguous taste. It’s either done correctly or it’s not,” said Jackson. “There are lots of people who have a bit of Caribbean experience whether they got married, honeymooned or vacationed there and they know that taste. It’s not something you can play with. Because we do it in an authentic form, people gravitate towards it.”

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We’re different because: “We’re sitting on a lakefront so to have that dining right there next to the view of Lake George is just such a serene and tranquil setting. Nature provides the whole ambiance,” said Jackson. “Especially during the evening hours it is a hot spot for couples with the soft lighting, the low music and just being here just a few feet from Lake George.”

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Prices: Dinner starts at $5 for partners in wine (appetizers), $9 for salads and $11 for entrees. Lunch items, which are served from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays, start at $9.

Logistics: Montego Bay Grille is at 322 Main St., Hobart, Indiana. Hours are 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 4-9 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays and 4-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays. Call 219-940-3152 or go to www.montegobaygrille.com.

Jessi Virtusio is a freelance reporter for the Post-Tribune.

Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/lifestyles/ct-ptb-dining-south-st-0922-20170913-story.html

Bobby Clarke of NYC’s Irie Jam Radio Receives Jamaica’s National Order of Distinction

Jamaica-born, New York resident Robert “Bobby” Clarke, president and CEO of Queens-based Irie Jam Radio, was honored by the Jamaican government on Sunday with the prestigious Order of Distinction “for over 20 years of dedicated media services to Jamaican nationals of the New York Tri-state area.”

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Patricia Meschino Bobby Clarke photographed on Oct. 16, King’s House in Kingston, Jamaica.

Every year, the third Monday in October is observed as Heroes Day in Jamaica, which includes an elaborate morning ceremony on the grounds of King’s House (the governor general’s residence) where national honors are conferred on Jamaicans from various walks of life. The Order of Distinction, instituted by an Act of Parliament in 1968, is the sixth-highest honor in the island’s Orders of Societies of Honor.

“When I first saw the email saying I was receiving the award, I thought maybe I read it wrong,” laughed Clarke in an interview with Billboard at a Manhattan restaurant. “But after reading it over five times I thought, this is big because it’s the country of my birth recognizing what I’ve done. I’m honored and it means a lot to our team and the Irie Jam listeners that one of us has been recognized for our work.”

Clarke’s first step into media began with a chance encounter at Bronx Travel, a travel agency he co-owned in the 1990s. Milford Edwards, a former broadcaster with Jamaica’s JBC Radio, visited Bronx Travel specifically to discuss an idea for a radio program. “At that time, Milford was an engineer at a satellite broadcast center in New York City and he said he had a way to pipe Jamaica’s radio stations into the U.S. and asked if I was interested,” recalled Clarke. “ISBN lines had just come on the market, the technology hadn’t been tried before, but Milford was sure it could work. I was really intrigued by Milford’s concept so I said let’s do it.”

Clarke flew to Jamaica shortly thereafter to meet with the late Karl Young, the owner of Jamaica’s IRIE FM (107.5 FM), which debuted on Aug. 1, 1990, with an unprecedented all-reggae format. Although Clarke was kept waiting for two days, when the meeting finally took place Young expressed great interest in broadcasting IRIE FM on New York airwaves.

“I did a really good sales job: I brought Milford down to sell the technology and within weeks we had a contract,” said Clarke. “IRIE FM’s then general manager and program director Clyde McKenzie (also a 2017 Order of Distinction recipient) alongside my partners in New York, Milford Edwards and Deon Gordon, put a program together and we approached WRTN FM (now WVIP) 93.5 FM, New Rochelle, New York, and negotiated a time slot.” (WVIP FM has a brokered station format, meaning producers are responsible for securing their own advertisers to pay for airtime.)

Clarke and the team arranged time for their show within Jawara Blake’s Culture Jam program, which aired Saturdays at midnight. The Jamaica/New York IRIE FM/WRTN FM simulcast, christened Irie Jam Radio, premiered as a two-hour broadcast on Oct. 16, 1993, to enthusiastic responses from listeners in Jamaica and the New York tri-state area. It was the first time the city’s airwaves connected Jamaicans in the Diaspora to their island birthplace, predating the widespread availability of internet radio or digital broadcasts of terrestrial stations.

“On air in New York we had Milford Edwards and Pat McKay (now the director of programming, reggae and gospel at Sirius/XM) and in Jamaica it was Ainsworth ‘Big A’ Higgins,” recalled Clarke. “We spent hours finding and listening to music, trying to figure out how to make this the best show in the world. It was surreal how good that simulcast connection was and the experience changed my life. I was supposed to be studying to become a lawyer but after that first broadcast, I decided radio is what I wanted to do, so I had to find the money to do it.”

Irie Jam Radio reached an even wider audience with their move to a Saturday afternoon slot on WRTN, this time partnering with Jamaica’s RJR Radio (94 FM) because the slot conflicted with IRIE FM’s program schedule. Increased advertising from local businesses followed, allowing Irie Jam to expand its format to include more music, news, talk and entertainment segments.

Irie Jam Radio now broadcasts 47 hours per week, 7 days a week on WVIP — its dancehall, roots reggae and soca playlist supplemented by extended infomercial styled interviews with mortgage brokers, herbal healers, lawyers and other businesses targeting the vast purchasing power of the station’s Caribbean-American listenership.

Irie Jam’s popular lineup of radio personalities includes Calvin “Cali B” Barrett, Chris “Dubbmaster” McDonald, Jabba (of Bobby Konders’ Massive B sound, heard on New York City’s WQHT FM Hot 97), Marcus Wanted (of Platinum Kids sound), Roy “DJ Roy” Walters (of Road International sound) and Irwine Clare, who helms Irie Jam’s talk programs addressing issues and interests of the Caribbean community. The IRIE Jam executive team today consists of Louis Grant, Michael Williams and Syntyché Clarke (Bobby’s wife).

Clarke describes Irie Jam as a station within a station. Nielsen tracks WVIP FM but not Irie Jam Radio, which renders the latter’s exact audience size unknown. However, their consistently well-supported events are indicative of a widespread listenership. Their inaugural 10th anniversary Irie Jamboree, held in 2003 at Roy Wilkins Park, Queens and headlined by Sean Paul, had an attendance of 3,000 people, and swelled to 24,000 in 2007 when Beres Hammond and Buju Bantonperformed.

In 2013, Irie Jam partnered with promoters Dahved Levy and Steven Williams for the three-night Caribbean Fever Irie Jamboree Music Fest at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center, headlined by Shabba Ranks and Damian Marley and attracting nearly 15,000 attendees. The fest’s most memorable moment occurred when the music stopped: Clarke interrupted Marley’s performance of “Affairs of The Heart” to deliver an onstage proposal to his then-girlfriend Syntyché.

The Irie Jam brand also encompasses the annual all-inclusive Memorial Day party Oracabessa Bliss; Irie Fashion Rave, spotlighting Caribbean designers; the upcoming Portland Paradise Weekend, taking place in Portland, Jamaica, from Dec. 1-3; and the nonprofit Irie Butterfly Foundation, which provides summercamp opportunities and other programs for children.

In celebration of their 25th anniversary next year, Irie Jam will stage at least four events per month, beginning in February 2018; according to Clarke, a major reggae/Caribbean concert is scheduled for later this month at a Manhattan venue. Just as they introduced cutting edge simulcasts to the New York market in 1993, the team will soon launch another technological breakthrough: Irie Jam 360, an audio/visual interactive app, powered by Radio Vue technology.

“Through Irie Jam 360 you can watch Irie Jam radio live from our studios across social media platforms,” said Clarke. “Listeners can call via Skype and talk to our DJs, post messages onscreen and we can split the screen and pull artists into the conversation. Basically it turns a radio station into a TV station. It’s going to change New York’s Caribbean market quickly and, I think, the entire radio landscape. We’ve kept our listeners for this long because we continue to grow. By presenting new platforms like this, we are now attracting our original audiences’ kids, even their grandkids.”

Source: http://www.billboard.com/articles/business/8005847/bobby-clarke-irie-jam-radio-national-honor-jamaica