Home-Grown Talent: Chef Jack Barwick

After being crowned U.K. Young Chef of the Year 2017, Caymanian Jack Barwick is flying back home to cook up a storm for Slow Food Day.

Why is Slow Food an important movement to you personally?

The movement started as way to shine light on the fact ‘fast food’ is destroying many localized food cultures. It has also negatively affected the health of the people that consume it on a regular basis.

I think modern life and the obsession with speed, cost and convenience has forced so many of us to turn away from relying on our local farmers and producers, as well as speeding up the dilution of families sharing recipes and celebrating their food together every day, rather than once in a blue moon. This negatively affects me because, like anyone interested in the origins of their profession, watching it change for the worse is sad to witness.

What are you hoping to communicate to the Cayman audience through your cooking this year?

I’m hoping to make a slight alteration to the tone of this year’s slow food event. We’ll still highlight the important of local produce, which will inevitably support our farmers who are doing their best to halt the dominance of the bleak and bland world that is mass produced ingredients. I’d like to take it a step further, though, and ask the diners to look towards the preservation of our amazing ecosystem and the endemic plants that have been here far longer than we have. By bringing some foraged ingredients to the table I hope we create a deeper connection and inspire them to remember that decisions we make in our lives here often affect the environment we live in, which if preserved, could benefit us through variety, as well as unparalleled flavors, in our diets.

Tell us a bit about what you have planned for the Harvest Dinner…

It’s Indian themed so we’ll be balancing that tradition and authenticity with our local, Caribbean produce; instead of Bombay potatoes, there’ll be yam and yucca; instead of spinach in our daal we’ll be using moringa leaves and fry their peppery flowers to garnish. I’ve made a pereskia bleo chutney. This is made from the rare rose cactus fruit that’s growing explosively within Camana Bay. As the theme is Indian and showcases local produce, there’ll be food for all types of ‘-tarians’ who want to attend!

Have you worked with chef Wolfgang Schlitter and Ilaya Raja before? What’s it like generally to collaborate with other chefs (there is that old adage that too many can be problematic!)?

We’ve all found a great connection. Ilaya is a reserved guy yet he’s passionate about his job and is very different to most chefs – which is to say, he’s not loud and opinionated. It makes me happy to see him get so excited chatting about his food and the menu we’ve all planned.

Wolfgang is hilarious. He’s ethereal in the sense that he seems almost too happy and loving to work in such a profession. He has wonderful ideas and has found a great balance in having fun and working hard through the bright and expressive way he operates.

It really has been an honor to work with them and I’m looking forward to the crunch time where we can all come together for the culmination of the event.

How did you find the adjustment of moving from Cayman to London to make your way in the restaurant industry?

It was incredibly arduous at first as I was failing to find a restaurant with a kitchen that wasn’t uptight and aggressive. Unbelievably, I stumbled upon Robin and Sarah Gill at their cool new restaurant in Clapham, The Dairy. Ever since, I’ve been allowed to flourish and grow with them in their unique restaurant group; I can express myself creatively without the restrictions that are often found in high quality kitchens. I feel incredibly lucky every day I work with their team; they’re all a big family and I’m proud to be their annoying little brother.

Can you tell us more about your interest in foraging? Can anyone do it here in Cayman, and if so what should we look out for and where?

Foraging is a relatively difficult thing to do here and I’m still learning every day. There are hundreds of wild plants here that are either medicinal, nutritional or just tasty. Sometimes it feels like every plant here has some purpose, but that’s not the case. Researching and investigating the environment is not something you can easily teach but really must be discovered for oneself. Pushing through that dense local vegetation is tough, let me tell you!

Surrounding yourself with ways of identifying plants is the first step – books, websites, plant identification apps, anything that can help you figure out what a plant is and whether it has edible properties. The step after that is going outside to get to know your landscape. Certain areas of the Island create habitats for certain plants, so understanding the lay of the land is also important.

I hope to one day create something that combine the things I’ve learned through other local knowledge as well as the teachings of my grandmother, Margaret, who has massively influenced Caribbean horticulture. I’m sure she’ll be happy to see her inspiration turn into something tangible that everyone can enjoy.

Working in central London, do you still manage to forage for ingredients and typically where do you source your restaurant’s produce from?

We more often than not use the hour break between services to go out to the local parks near the restaurants. There we find fruiting trees, edible flowers, wild arugula, oxalis, pineapple weed, dandelion and chickweed as well as elderflower. We often use elderflower for a cordial but later in the year it bears green elderberries that we salt and turn into capers. If they’re left, they ripen into succulent black elderberries that we might use to make a sauce or jam.

Almost all of our vegetables are now sourced from a farm near Gatwick Airport that we fuel with our kitchen waste. We choose the ingredients they grow, which allows us to create some diversity in the produce we typically get. All other ingredients like game, fish or fungus come from other English sources.

What’s been your career highlight so far?

The expected answer would be the accolade I was given in 2017 [Bookatable’s UK Young Chef of the Year], but the highlight so far has to be working with Robin Gill in the 2017 Cayman Cookout. We had a lot of fun creating the menu and it was a very proud moment for me bringing Robin and Sarah to let them experience the amazing place I have the pleasure to call home.

What have you got your sights set on next?

I’m going back to London to keep working hard, and I hope I’ll represent Cayman well and make everyone proud. I’m hoping for 2018 to be the year I show the UK some of the flavors and techniques we use in Cayman and the Caribbean as a whole. I really want to do our cooking some justice!

Slow Food Day Cayman takes place on Saturday, April 14. For details of Jack’s Harvest Dinner and other related events, visit the Camana Bay website.