Travel Diary: Chef April Bloomfield Eats Her Way Through Jamaica
When Mario Batali asked his friend April Bloomfield to join him at the first-ever NyamJam Food and Musical Festival in St. Mary, Jamaica, saying yes was a no-brainer. The celebrated restaurateur behind the Michelin-starred restaurants the Spotted Pig and the Breslin worked for for a Jamaican chef in Birmingham, England, who cultivated in her an affinity for Caribbean ingredients like the scotch bonnet.
Hosted by Batali at legendary music producer Chris Blackwell’s iconic Goldeneye Resort, NyamJam was a first for the country. Batali also brought in other world-renowned chefs, including Seamus Mullen, Jose Enrique, and Johnny Iuzzini, while Blackwell recruited acclaimed musical acts, including the African singer Angelique Kidjo and the Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin. Blackwell also invited Rohan Marley, the entrepreneur son of Bob (who sold Blackwell the Goldeneye estate, which was originally owned by Ian Fleming), to serve up his popular Marley Coffee.
During a preparatory visit and her weekend at the festival, Bloomfield fell in love with the food, especially saltfish paired with ackee, a fruit that is plentiful on the island (“I pretty much ate that every day—it’s the perfect breakfast”), and the Jamaican people (“I just think they like life in general”). Here, she shares her snapshots of mouthwatering dishes and lust-worthy landscapes that may have you booking a ticket for your own Jamaican food-and-music experience.
“That was back in August, on our first trip. Seamus Mullen and I got up early in the morning and went fishing. We got two guys to take us out and we caught a mahi and another fish—I think it might have been a king fish, like a tuna—so Seamus whipped up a little ceviche.”
“This is also back in August. We [Johnny Iuzzini, Seamus Mullen and I] were saying goodbye. We got to spend some time with Chris Blackwell [second from left], who founded Island Records and is the sweetest man. It was great for us to see how much he loved Jamaica.”
“This was the mahi that Seamus [left] and one of his chefs did with a little bit of pineapple. I had actually had been cooking up some spiced short ribs on that grill all day.”
“I’m slightly obsessed with ackee now. It’s actually quite toxic, so you can’t pick or eat it until it opens. So you have to wait for these little things to open up and then you harvest them and you discard the black seed and you end up with these three yellow loaves of what looks like scrambled eggs. You just slowly cook them with onions and scotch bonnet and a little tomato and add the salt fish, and it’s kind of like breakfast without the eggs, really.”
“This is me grilling my beef ribs with my lovely views. I wanted to do this totally tropical Caribbean salsa, so I used a mixture of ripe mango, green mango, green papaya, ripe papaya, pineapple, scotch bonnet, and garlic, and then I bound it all together with delicious coconut oil. They had these tiny limes and I just quickly put them on the grill and got a nice little char, and then squeezed that half a tiny charred lime, which was rather time consuming. But putting in the extra step was very much worth the effort, because you really did get a little smoky charred pop when you poured it over the shortrib.”
“This was the first night at the Ian Fleming Villa, Goldeneye, and [the chefs and musicians] were just having cocktails. I was drinking a rum punch. We had a delicious dinner of fish broth that was super spicy. It just slightly caught the back of your throat with the scotch bonnet, which was great. Then we listened to some songs and had an early night.”
“There was a surprise performance by Ernest Ranglin at the ticketed dinner. He sat down and he was just jamming. People had a great night and Mario did too. It was very Italian-inspired and there was lots of wine and beer flowing.”
“Here’s me and Angelique Kidjo having dinner that Mario and I cooked up. That was the second night of the festival, when Ernest Ranglin played.”
“Marley Coffee is delicious. We learned so much about coffee and got to go to the Blue Mountains and meet some coffee producers. They say that Blue Mountain coffee is naturally sweet and you don’t need sugar, and actually it’s very, very true. It’s just delicious coffee.” [Pictured with April, a Marley Coffee vendor.]
“Mama J was cooking us a feast of Jamaican jerk chicken and I was watching her technique. She had a little bit of red stripe in a bottle and she would ever so gently make a little hole in the top so she could kind of shake a little beer over it to keep it nice and moist.”
“Some vendors serving up Bacardi and coconut.”