Interview with Chef Jamika Pessoa of `The Next Food Network Star` Fame

This month we interview Jamika Pessoa, the `The Next Food Network Star`  contestant of Jamaican Heritage. Her contagious smile and Caribbean inspired recipes were on display for 6 weeks on season 5 of “The Next Food Network Star”.  She made the final 4 cut before being eliminated. As we rooted for her each week she inspired many in the Caribbean community to view our food in a different light. We interview her a month after the season was completed.

Q. Tell us about your Jamaican Background?

My dad is from Jamaica. He was born in Westmoreland.

Q. Who came up with the unique name Jamika?

My father named me. He said that he wanted to give his last born a name that would remind him of home and make him smile every time he said my name.

Q.  Have you visited Jamaica before? 

Yes Several times. As a child, my family and I used to vacation in Negril and visit my aunt in Montego Bay. Just recently, I visited Ocho Rios on vacation. The RIU is a beautiful resort.

Q. What is your best memories of the food in Jamaica? What is your memories of the food your Jamaican parent (s) cooked?

My dad is the cook in the family. He has been living in the states for over 50 years now, but he always used to send back home for Jamaican ackee, callaloo, spices, spice buns, fruit cake, you name it. I remember as a kid him being so excited when that package would come in the mail. The first Jamaican dish I remember having was curried chicken. I still use the original family recipe to make my curried chicken today.

Q: What inspired you to enter the contest The Next Food Network Star`?

 I was inspired to enter the competition because I love to cook, teach, and entertain people. I also wanted to bring my flavors as a chef to the Food Network. I felt they needed a little spicing up!

Q.  How has life changed for you since you have been on `The Next Food Network Star`?

Since the show, I have been recognized all over the place and so many people tell me how much they loved me on the show. I am still working hard at cooking, but it is nice that when I say my name now, people already know who I am. It makes getting into doors a little bit easier now.

Q.  What would you say was you best and worst moments on the show?

My best moment was winning the Good Housekeeping challenge and sharing some of my family’s traditions with viewing audiences. The worst had to have been the Intrepid challenge. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong that day. Although I did not produce my best dish, the fact that I still presented something edible on the plate was a miracle.

Q.  In episode film in Miami Beach I recall one of the judges mentioning that your Jerk did not have a hot kick to it. People seem to be under the impression that Jerk is suppose to be hot/spicy at all time. What are your thoughts on that?

According to my father, if you are not sweating while you are eating, then the jerk is not right. Although jerk is traditionally spicy, for larger crowds like that party, you don’t want to blow your guests heads off with spicy jerk. When I cater, I try to keep my jerk a little on the spicy side, yet extremely flavorful. Making too spicy of a jerk only ruins the flavors of everything else you serve.

Q. Where you surprised when you were eliminated?

In retrospect, I was not surprised at the judges call. At that point, I realized that I did all that I could and no matter how much more talent or culinary skill I had over the remaining finalist, I was just not what the judges were looking for.

Q.  Can you tell us how the intense competition affected relationships on the set?

In the beginning, the competition did not affect us too much. It was towards the end, when I really saw people’s true personalities coming out. Desperation to stay in the game, really brings out the worst sides of people.

Q.  Who on the show is going to be your friend for life?

I am still good friends with Michael, Debbie, and Katie. We all talk all of the time. I am glad that I met them; because all of us are so different, I would have never met them had it not been for the show.

Q. You met a few famous people while on the show. Which one of these people were you most looking forward to meet?

I was most looking forward to meeting Bobby Flay. As a chef, I made it my goal to impress his palate.

Q. What is your favorite show on Food Network?

 I like watching the cake competitions. I do not bake, so I love watching other people do fascinating things with cakes and sugar.

Q.  What inspires you when you are in the kitchen?

I am inspired in the kitchen by the people I cook for. As a personal chef, I get to see first hand their immediate reaction to the food. I make it my goal to not only impress them, but to exceed their expectations every time

Q. . What is your favorite Jamaican meal?

My favorite Jamaican meal would be beef patties, curried goat, fried plantain, and an ice cold Ting to wash it all down.

Q. What foods do you stay way from?

I stay away from octopus since I am allergic.

Q. If you were on a desert island and you could have one food what would it be?

That is a hard question. I could not choose between my comfort foods like pizza or macaroni and cheese, or my favorite chocolate chip cookies.

Q.  Projects are you working on now and will we be seeing your “big contagious smile” on TV sometime near in the future?

I guarantee you will be seeing me again on TV. I am currently working towards some projects, my own show is still in the near future, and I am working on my own food product line so that you can have me in your home kitchen all the time. Life is great and my smile just keeps on getting bigger and bigger with every blessing.

About the author

Xavier Murphy