#FeatureFriday: Exploring ‘Caribbean Flavour’ With Jerene McKenzie Of Jerene’s Eats

The last time I wrote about food was in February 2017, when I had to chastise an individual who attempted to besmirch the good, good name of Jamaican cuisine with some awful travesty of a…dish. Today, I happily report from the other side, where I get the chance to big up one of my St Hilda’s High School classmates Jerene McKenzie, whose first cookbook, Jerene’s Eats: Caribbean Flavour – 14 Easy and Delicious Recipes That are Sure to Pleasewill be published tomorrow!  The ebook is already the number one release in the ‘One-Hour Cookbook, Food & Wine Short Reads’ category, so don’t be shyhit the link and pre-order to help keep it there!

If you’ve checked out her popular blog, Jerene’s Eats, and tried any of the recipes, you already know she is for real. I caught up with the busy wife, mom, blogger, chef-in-the-making, and now author to find out how she became a foodie, her writing and self-publishing journey, the foodies and chef who inspire her, and so much more. Have a taste! 🍲

Q: Who or what inspired you to create your cookbook, Caribbean Flavour?

I think it has been a journey of inspiration. My passion for food and cooking was fueled by my mom—God rest her soul—who encouraged every bit of my creativity and excitement throughout the years. Also, chefs Martin Yan and Lidia Bastianich who I used to get up early on some Saturday mornings to watch on local tv when I was a young girl. Their shows excited me even more than cartoons.

More recently, when I started an Instagram page for my blog, I kept getting recipe requests for the dishes in the photos I’d share. I also wanted to create something that my children could enjoy and remember me by. I thought this would be a precious piece of me and my culture for them to enjoy.

Q: Tell me a little about the journey of creating the ebook, from recipe development to narrowing the selection down to 14.

Well, years ago I actually started writing down recipes for some of my favourite dishes because I wanted to recreate them with the same level of yumminess each time. However, I never published them. They went from being written on bits of paper to being recorded in my phones to being stored on my computer. These 14 recipes were chosen because of the number of people who reached out to me asking for them specifically.

My recipes have been tested and changed several times over the years and enjoyed by family, friends, coworkers and mainly my husband, Dwayne. He is not biased though. He has certainly developed a discriminating palate and he blames me for that. 

I find that the most challenging part of putting this together was making sure that the instructions would be clear and easy, but at the same time, not watering down the quality of the dish. The most rewarding thing for me through all of this was feeding my face after each recipe test! (Hahaaaaaaaaaaa kidding!) Actually, it’s the feedback from people who tasted the food or others saying how excited they are to try the recipes and how confident they’ll feel having recipes in their arsenal to share with their loved ones. I also look forward to my kids growing up and cooking up stuff from this and my other books with me.

I remember the last recipe test I did for Jamaican Style Brown Stewed Fish. Hubby finished up his share and then snatched some off my plate. When I complained, he said I should just make some more and run another test. 😂

Q: What was the publishing journey like? Is the ebook self-published or do you have a deal?

This is self-published and I’m very proud of that; however, I’m definitely looking forward to partnering with an established publishing company in the future.

Q: There are many popular and iconic cookbooks and cookbook authors/chefs out there, from the legendary Julia Child to folks like Ina Garten and celebrity foodies like Ayesha Curry and Chrissy Teigen. Who are some of your personal favourite foodies or chefs? What are your top two cookbooks? (I know asking for one would be unreasonable lol) And since this is the internet age and you do also have your own food blog, who are some of your foodie faves in the blogosphere?

My favourite chefs/foodies… too many! How much time do you have? 😊 Wolfgang Puck, Ina Garten, Gordon Ramsay, Rachel Ray, Martin Yan, Masaharu Morimoto, Ainsley Harriot, Lidia Bastianich, and Alton Brown. Two of my favourite food bloggers are @blackfoodie and @divascancook on Instagram.

One of my favourite books is Hamlyn New All Colour Cookbook published in 1992. Ok, it’s old, but I’ll tell you why: It was given to me by my big sister, Nadene, some time in the 90s. The photos and drawings are so appealing. I love the flow of the book and the recipes are super easy to follow. This is an old book but it stirred up so much excitement in me when I was a young girl. I used to stay up late in my mom’s kitchen trying the different dishes. Of course, I didn’t have half of the ingredients required but that’s how my creative juices started to flow. And yes, I still have the book.

Q: Food is a pretty big deal here in Jamaica, so I know you grew up “eating good,” as the young people say. But when/how did you become an ‘official’ foodie?

Hmmm…official foodie. I’d say…one year—I can’t recall which—when I went to the Trelawny Yam Festival in Jamaica with my parents and saw the ingenious dishes the cooks came up with and I remember being very excited about it all. To this day I’m disappointed that I didn’t get to taste the yam pizza.

The next event my family went to was the Denbigh Agricultural Show, where I feel like I forced my poor mom to walk with me to every pavilion to look at food-related displays. At this point, I started collecting recipe books and looked forward to all the food festivals.

Q: What were some of your favourite dishes growing up? And what is that one food you just don’t like or refuse to eat?

Growing up I looooooooved any pudding my mom made, and fried chicken with rice and peas. What I don’t like is turkey neck! If it’s the apocalypse and that’s all that’s left…yes, I’ll work with it. But other than that, nope! No thanks. Also, I would never have black pudding. I’d rather season up some wild grass and saute it with likkle onion and scotch bonnet. 😂

Q: On your blog, you describe Toronto as “a thrilling melting pot of cultures”, which I’m sure is foodie heaven. What are some of your favourite places in the city to grab a quick bite or share a meal with your hubby or friends?

Now yuh gonna get me drooling!

  • Burgers -Holy Chuck
  • Sushi – Jabistro
  • Steak – Canyon Creek
  • Jamaican beef patty – Randys 🤤
  • Jamaican box lunch – Ritz Caribbean Foods (Eglinton West location)
  • Seafood – The Chase Fish and Oyster, Captain’s Boil, Fishman Lobster Clubhouse. Yup, I love seafood!
  • Chinese food – Cynthia’s Restaurant
  • Thai food – Real Thailand Cuisine

Ok, enough. I’m getting hungry here! 

Q: Circling back to Caribbean Flavour, what are your hopes for the book? And do you plan to do a print edition in the future?

I hope that it’ll bring some excitement to the Caribbean diaspora reminding them of home. I also want everyone who isn’t Caribbean to feel intrigue, passion and eventually confidence in the kitchen as they attempt these dishes. It’s unlikely that I’ll do a print edition right now because I’d rather print with a much larger collection of recipes. We’ll see, though.

Q: What is the biggest lesson you have learned from this experience? 

Food is an endless subject and you can never know it all.

Q: Do you plan to pursue your food passion full-time? What is the ultimate dream for you in this industry?

My ultimate dream is to be a celebrated author and catering company owner.

Quick Questions

Q: What is your philosophy in life?
Be sure that in silence and solitude you can find happiness within yourself.

Q: My website is called Written by Tracey, so of course I have to ask, what was the last thing you wrote?
Besides a grocery list? 😀 Some poems for fun. (Some were actually published in The Sunday Gleaner years ago.)

Q: And since I firmly believe reading puts the FUN in fundamental, what is the last thing you read?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Find Jerene’s Eats


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