By Kelleigh Savoie
From BBM to brick and mortar. How Boom J's found it's roots in instant messaging.
Here at Smoke Show, we have a deep appreciation for Jamaican jerk spice. Apart from the simple fact that jerk is objectively delicious, it is historically and culturally significant. The history of jerk holds meaning beyond the obvious. Jerk style cooking is an important part of Jamaican heritage. It illustrates the resilience of the traditional inhabitants, who made use of this cooking method to survive, and an innate ability to acclimate. Jerk is not just a spice. It is a tangible representation of adaptability. Over time, jerk style cooking has travelled from Jamaica alongside the global settlement and communities, becoming a staple international dish. Montreal serves as an example of this. We have a vibrant Jamaican community here, and local Jamaican owned restaurants give us access to traditional dishes. Appreciating this food provides an opportunity to support black owned businesses, while being treated to a unique culinary adventure.
Being surrounded by so many opportunities, we felt we had no choice but to ask someone who learned about cooking traditional Jamaican dishes through first hand experience. We had the pleasure of speaking to Jermaine, owner of local Montreal Jamaican restaurant Boom J’s about his journey.
The road that led to Jermaine establishing Boom J’s is a testament to the idea that hard work and perseverance pay off. While working a seasonal job, he toyed with the idea of going back to culinary school, but never felt supported in that endeavor. Jermaine had developed a passion for cooking by observing and helping his mom from about 6 years old. He said that growing up in Jamaica, it was only natural to cook and to learn from your elders. Today, his recipes are inspired from what his mother passed on to him at a young age. She provided him with the knowledge of traditional Jamaican cooking, and through his own experience, he was able to put a unique twist on his dishes.
The Boom J’s origin story is one for the books. In 2009, Jermaine decided he was ready to seriously pursue his passion. He explained that this was during the height of Blackberry messaging, otherwise known as good old BBM. Jermaine started sending out broadcast menus offering his Jamaican food through BBM. He would spend his days getting orders, cooking, and delivering to whoever on his friends list wanted. He explained that this system really kicked off, and eventually became too large to conduct from his home kitchen. Faced with the problem of his new business outgrowing his old space, he made a deal with a local youth center, “Youth in Motion”, to use their kitchen in exchange for taking his time to teach the young members how to cook. He spent a year and a half in the youth center kitchen building up his clientele, and when it became substantial, he was able to finally open up Boom J’s.
Boom J’s is authentic on all fronts. Located on Wellington, they serve bona fide classics like beef patties and jerk chicken, but also offers customers dishes that are less familiar, including fried king fish and saltfish. When asked how Montrealers respond to these dishes, Jermaine explained that he’s noticed a growing tendency towards adventurism when it comes to food. Dishes on his menu that once may not have been as mainstream, like his red snapper, are becoming more and more popular as the trend grows.
Jermaine also offered up advice for the home chefs looking to experiment with Jamaican cooking, such as jerk. According to him, the best way to cook jerk is the traditional method. In a perfect world jerk is made in a fire pit, but that may be unrealistic for the average home chef. It needs to be slow cooked to perfection, ideally with a smoker or a grill. The biggest takeaway was that as Jermaine put it, “jerk is a traditional dish, but is open to many twists”. He emphasized experimenting with your flavour, with the spice level and with the ingredients you use. You can have fun with cooking jerk dishes, and that’s what makes it exciting!
If you are curious about jerk but unsure where to start, we put together this simple recipe, utilizing our own jerk spice, to try at home. Remember though, as Jermaine explained, don't worry about following this recipe step by step. Have fun with it and get creative!