Jerked food was still a novelty in the United States when Beverley Johnson migrated there from Jamaica in the early 1980s. As the spicy recipe’s popularity grew, so did her reputation as one of its leading exponents. Johnson is the proprietor of Bev’s Jerk Center in Decatur, Georgia, a must-go eatery for Jamaicans and lovers of jerk in the Greater Atlanta area.
Originally from the rural St. Catherine parish of Jamaica, Johnson has been in Georgia for 17 years. She also travels the US tirelessly spreading the word of jerk. “It’s my work, it’s what I love to do. I have been doing this from mi a pickney (child),” she said.
The 54-year-old Johnson’s latest stop was the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival in Queens, New York on July 22. She has shown her products at other major events such as the Essence Awards in New Orleans.
The acceptance of jerked chicken and pork by A-list celebrities like Beyonce and major stores including Publix Supermarket, has seen this Jamaican staple win over the American mainstream.
It has also sparked a flood of chefs who claim superior knowledge of how to prepare it. Johnson said she learned at the hands of a master – her grandmother Viola Smith. “I used to go market with har as a little girl an’ watch how she mek har spices an’ prepare the food. To this day I make my own seasoning an’ that’s why people always line up at my booth ’cause mi have the real thing,” she boasted.
The blend of seasonings (escallion, pimento leaves and seeds, scotch bonnet pepper, and bird pepper) Johnson’s grandmother sold in markets years ago, is still a winning combination. It provides the flavor for most of the food she serves at Bev’s Jerk Center which has attracted some of the biggest acts in Jamaican entertainment, including Shabba Ranks, Bounty Killer, and Beenie Man.