Hot and hotter
By: Anna Borowiecki
| Posted: Wednesday, Aug 28, 2013 04:15 pm
For a place so small and poor, Jamaica’s reach into world cuisine is extensive. The influence of its rich and spicy dishes has now touched the St. Albert Farmers’ Market.
In this week’s Market Place, we meet Henry Palmer, a Jamaican-born vendor and executive chef at the Selkirk Hotel in Fort Edmonton Park.
Passionate about cooking food, especially the slow method that allows palette-pleasing flavours to develop naturally, Palmer has created Jamaican style marinades, seasonings and sauces.
There is nothing bland about the condiments he markets under the Jamaican Chefmon moniker. Using a secret blend of hot peppers, spices, herbs and vegetables, he makes fresh batches of fiery sauces and marinades every week. The results are spicy condiments free of chemical preservatives.
“My motto is ‘only the best is good enough,’” says Palmer.
Raised in the resort town of Negril, he started cooking under his mother’s ministrations. After school, he gravitated to a pastry shop before training under some of the Caribbean’s most renowned chefs at the Swept Away Resort.
Later at the Grand Lido Negril Jamaica, an adult-only resort stocked with six restaurants, he moved up the ranks to the position of sous chef, the second in command and direct assistant to the chef de cuisine.
Back in 1997, his stepdaughter had married a Canadian soldier and he moved to Edmonton to explore new opportunities.
But the transition was initially difficult.
“At first the water in the taps was cold, I didn’t want to drink it. It was cold here and I wondered if I made a good decision.”
Employed as a chef at both the Sawmill and Fantasyland, Palmer finally discovered his niche after opening the Selkirk 10 years ago.
“I used to get compliments from my customers. They would hug me and kiss me. They appreciated what I did and that’s what motivates me the most. Here at the Selkirk, some customers don’t come unless they know I’m cooking,” chuckles Palmer.
Several years ago his wife, Patricia Collins, convinced him to start bottling all the fiery goodness. His first attempts included a jerk marinade, Jamaican dry rub, a fusion form of jerk chicken spring rolls and a strawberry vinaigrette salad dressing.
Now in his second year at the market, Palmer has expanded to high-in-demand hot sauces, Jamaican beef patties, jerk chicken patties and a traditional Caribbean rum cake.
Judging by the numbers of repeat customers, his products are quite popular. Not only locals, but also tourists from across Canada and the United States have stopped by his booth. Unable to find the same quality at home, they stock up.
He chalks up the popularity of Jamaican food to travel.
“Lots of people travel to Jamaica. About 20 per cent of my clients have been to Jamaica or are going. Many start with jerk chicken and curried goat. There’s things they wouldn’t care about here, but in Jamaica they will try it.”
His most popular seller is the jerk marinade.
“When you taste the jerk marinade, it brings you back to Jamaica. And it’s mild with cinnamon, allspice, onions and thyme. I make it mild. If you need to make it hotter, add hot sauce. We made it so families can enjoy it.”
And the second most popular buy is the ghost pepper hot sauce using a unique blend of blistering peppers, including some imported from India.
“People are always looking for hotter stuff.”
While Palmer also has a stall at Strathcona Market, he would like to remain a permanent fixture in St. Albert.
“It’s a great market. Everybody speaks highly of it. The people you meet are wonderful and the person who organizes it is fabulous.”
The St. Albert Farmers’ Market is on every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.