A Conversation with Jamaican Chef Andre Sewell

Chef Andre Sewell 2

This week we have a conversation with Jamaican Chef Andre Sewell from Kingston. A graphic designer and web developer by profession, Chef Andre has a passion for the culinary arts and has been featured on TVJ in Jamaica. He was taught basic cooking by his parents, at the age of 12. As Chef Andre got older he developed a passion for culinary arts, learning new kitchen techniques and exploring flavours. He currently does catering for events as he prepares to go into the culinary world full time by opening a café.

Did you go to school to become a Chef? 
My culinary “prowess” are both self-taught and a God-given talent. I spend a lot of time studying cooking techniques online, via the help of videos and reading and I do my best to understand why and how things food related work.

How would you define your cuisine?
I love taking traditional, local cuisines and pairing them with classic and modern techniques; to come up with results that are somewhat familiar, but outside of the box. That being said, my style of cooking would be categorized as fusion cuisine.

Ackee and saltfish stuffed jerk chicken
Ackee and saltfish stuffed jerk chicken

We recently saw a photo of your Chicken, Ackee and Salfish dish. It had all to colors of the Jamaican flag. Tell us about this creation?
Food ideas just pop in my head randomly and I’ll just go with them, if I believe they’re good ideas. For the ackee and saltfish stuffed jerked chicken in particular, that came from me wanting to do a Jamaican themed dish for heroes’ weekend; just to add to my portfolio. I’ve been considering it for weeks and as I was telling my wife “it must be something traditional, with a twist that no one has ever likely seen before. It must be spectacular and delicious; and it must have black, green and gold in there”. I’ve cooked ackee and jerked chicken before and know that it tastes fantastic; and I have done stuffed chicken before, so the idea was born.

Tell us some of the qualities that you feel a successful modern chef should have?
Easily – modern chefs should have an ever growing passion for food. They should at all times do their best to attempt to make their food taste better and look more appealing. There should be a great desire to think and cook outside of the box and challenge certain conventions; so that their food stands out. And lastly, flavour should be first.

What would you cook at home if you were just making a laid-back dinner?
Contrary to popular belief, I’m a very simple person (in my mind). On my most laid back of days, I’ll come home and eat honey nut cheerios. I LOVE honey nut cheerios lol. However, if I were to say something that’s more filling, more elegant, but still easy, I’d have to go with pasta. Any kind of pasta that the meat cooks in no time…using shrimp, or chicken breast, most likely.

Orange-cinnamon glazed chicken's feet
Orange-cinnamon glazed chicken’s feet, served with celery scented white rice & assorted an assortment of veggies

What are some emerging Caribbean food trends that you’re noticing?
More and more Caribbean chefs these days, mainly fine dining chefs, are taking on the “minimalism” approach to food. In that, you’re served small portions of food, in gigantic plates, mainly for the sake of fantastic presentation.

What do you think the most important qualities are in a young chef?
Young chefs must be committed, creative, open to learning new things, able to improvise; and must, MUST be able to work under pressure.

What’s the one cooking tool that a chef should not be without?
A sharp, good quality chef’s knife is the most important tool in a chef’s arsenal.

Bacon & plantain stuffed grilled chicken, with a roasted bell pepper puree; served with grilled polenta and a simple salad.
Bacon & plantain stuffed grilled chicken, with a roasted bell pepper puree; served with grilled polenta and a simple salad.

What is your favorite show on Food Network?
I don’t watch a lot of TV, so I don’t really have favourites. However, the two shows I watch the most on Food Network are ‘Chopped’ & ‘Diners, Drive Ins & Dives’.

What inspires you when you are in the kitchen?
I really love cooking and experimenting with flavours and whenever I’m in the kitchen doing such, I always want to 1 up the last time I cooked a particular meal. So I’d say just a love for food and making it taste great, is what inspires me.

What is your favorite Jamaican meal?
I really don’t have a favourite meal.

What foods do you stay way from?
I tend to mostly stay away from highly processed foods, foods with a lot of artificial ingredients and food laced with high fructose corn syrup. Additionally, I’m not into raw/undercooked meats, I don’t care for mushrooms and I absolutely hate truffles.

If you were on a desert island and you could have one food what would it be?
I cannot answer this question seriously lol. So many things came to my mind, from mangoes, to ripe bananas, honey nut cheerios, eggs and bread lol.

Beef cakes, with mango chutney
Beef cakes, with mango chutney & a thyme-butter balsamic reduction; served with fried semi-ripe plantains, avocado & a salad

I find that Chefs who have studied the culinary arts tend to experiment with fusions. Tell us about some of your Jamaican fusion recipes?
As far as Jamaican, fusion recipes go, I do ackee and saltfish stuffed jerk chicken, mango bread pudding with cream cheese sauce, Ackee and bacon, pan seared scotch bonnet chicken with coconut cream sauce; and savory pancakes with sausages and a creamy jerk sauce, just to name a few.

A movie you never get tired of watching….
No movies come to mind, but the Big Bang Theory (TV show) never gets old to me.

Chef Andre Sewell 3

Growing your hero was…
Growing up, you have a great deal of love, respect and appreciation for all the sacrifices your parents make for you. So if I were to choose a hero, it would have to be my father. Certainly not discounting my mother’s input; but which boy wants to grow to be like his mother? Lol.

Thanks for your time. Any closing words?
In closing, I’ll say the culinary arts, just as with just about any other field, focus, dedication and persistence are key to success. Work hard, work smart, trust God, can’t fail.

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