Jamaican Restaurant in Bali, Indonesia – Conversation with owner, Deborah Johnson

Travelers looking for home-style Jamaican cooking while visiting Jalan Bataubelig  in Bali, Indonesia are in luck. The Irie Vibe Jamaican Cafe serves up authentic Jamaican cuisine while reggae music plays in the background. Decorated with old pictures and the Jamaican flag, the cafe puts diners into the appropriate island mood. The menu features Jamaican Jerk Chicken with spicy and fruity sweet and sour gravy and an excellent oxtail stew, as well as the fine and traditional Brown Stew Chicken.

We had a conversation with Deborah Johnson owner of the Jamaican restaurant Irie Vibes Jamaican Cafe in Bali. Deborah Johnson – the middle child of Joseph and Evadne – was born and raised in Mandeville, Manchester Jamaica. At the age of thirteen, Deborah along with her family, moved to White Plains, New York to pursue better opportunities. Deborah credits her humble upbringing and being raised on a farm for her desire to want to open a restaurant. Before becoming a restaurateur, and opening the 1st Authentic Jamaican Restaurant in Bali, Indonesia, Deborah pursued her education at Baruch College in NY and graduated with a Bachelors Degree in Marketing Management and with a minor in Sociology. Although she had a degree in Marketing she had a Certificate in Accounting and ended up working in Accounting. She had been working in Accounting for about 15 years before she decided to walk away from “Corporate America”. She moved to the beautiful Island of Bali in 2012 along with her husband & business partner Kerrick Johnson. They travel across the globe, not only to introduce this delicious cuisine to the Indonesian, but to pursue the dream that never left Deborah’s heart. The couple plans to open their second location in the Big Apple New York in the near further so please stay tuned!

Where in Jamaica are you from?
I am from “cool cool” Mandeville, Manchester. My husband, partner in life and business, Kerrick Johnson hails from May Pen Clarendon. We were actually just in JA in April on vacation soaking up di sun and getting away from the NY cold and eating some good roast yam and jerk chicken. 🙂

How did you end up living in Bali, Indonesia?
Well, my youngest sister Mary-Ann had moved there for love in 2007. And in 2009 had a baby so I went to visit her and meet my nephew. I feel in love with the Island almost instantly! It reminded me so much of JA. The people were laid back and friendly and the beaches were just breathtaking! So! when my husband and I got married in 2011, I convinced him, that he just had to see this place called Bali. Anyway, we went together to Thailand and Bali for our honeymoon and he loved the place as well. While on our month long honeymoon, we were longing for some Jamaican food but there was no place to find it. Having an entrepreneurial mind, we saw an opportunity and decided to move there in the end of summer 2012 to open the first Authentic Jamaican Restaurant in all of Indonesia.

Tell us about Irie Vibe Jamaican Cafe?
Irie Vibes Jamaica Cafe is an Authentic Jamaican restaurant in Seminyak Bali, Indonesia and we pride ourselves on serving our customers nothing but di real tasty authentic Jamaican cuisine straight from “yaad”. We are the only Jamaican Restaurant in Indonesia. We created the place with ourselves in mind as Jamaican. We thought about what we would like and just created that. So the place is small and cozy, which is way we like our restaurants when we go our to eat. It is a colorful space with the colors of the flag running right through the place which you can see in the photos. We play only reggae music and bring the taste of Jamaica to not only the Indonesian people but to the vast inflow of tourist that frequent the island from all over the world.

How did you come up with the idea to start a Jamaican restaurant in Bali?
Well as I mentioned before, we visited on our honeymoon and saw that there were no Caribbean cuisine, much less Jamaican cuisine being offered in Bali. So we saw the opportunity and jumped at it. It was a long stretch, and many of our friends and family thought we were a bit crazy to travel to a place where it takes more than 24 hours to get to! However, with our strong faith in God and our desire to represent Jamaica in Asia we just took a leap of faith. Additionally, the space for rent as well as human labor is much cheaper in Bali than in New York. 🙂

How long has Irie Vibe Jamaican Cafe been around?
This is something God had put into my heart many years ago, But our Doors has been open 2 years now.

How has the Indonesian community received the restaurants?
Well we tried to acclimate ourselves to their culture. One way in which we did that was by learning the language, so when they come into the restaurant we can speak with them, as well as with the staff which is very important when doing business in Indonesia. The Indonesian community are also very welcoming people. They have been very supportive in our growth and the Bali media have even written articles on our restaurant. They absolutely love the food especially the rice and peas and oxtail. In Indonesia, they have something called “buntut soup” which is basically oxtail soup, and sorry to say this, but it has no flavor at all, its literally a few pieces of oxtail boiled in clear broth & served. So when they visit our restaurant and try our “buntut stew” they fall in love. They also love the atmosphere and the music. I’m not sure you know this but Indonesia has a huge reggae following and they LOVE Bob Marley! So with my husband having dreads they come there just to see him sometimes lol it’s kinda funny. 🙂 And also, many Indonesians are rastafarians with very long hair.

Deborah Johnson and Kerrick Johnson owners Irie Vibe Jamaican Cafe
Deborah Johnson and Kerrick Johnson owners Irie Vibe Jamaican Cafe

Are there many Jamaicans in Bali or the surrounding regions?
There are not many Jamaican in this Region. The closest you can find Jamaicans is in Perth, Australia about 6 hours from Bali and in Japan. But I must say the Indonesian people Love our Jamaican Culture. I see it every day from stickers all over their motor bikes, the music is always playing on the beach, the Rastaman clothes. some of these guys think they are the next Bob Marley lol its great, i love it.

Do you get all products and meats you would get in Jamaica in Bali?
Not all the products we can find such as Ackee and SaltFish, and the beef patty ingredients, which we were not happy about. But we otherwise get practically all the other products and meats needed to have a delectable Jamaican Menu.. This is a Tropical Island so they grow breadfruit, calaloo, soursop and so much more of the fruits we find back in JA. We get all kinds of fresh fish and goat meat from right there in Bali, however the oxtail comes from Australia which is Bali neighboring country.

Tell us about some of your Jamaican fusion recipes?
I cannot say that we have many Jamaican Fusion recipes as we tried to give the authentic taste of the Jamaican cuisine, however we have done a really nice curry lamb which many people come in for, our spicy fried chicken would be a fusion of the spicy Indonesian pepper called sambal. We also do an amazing brown stew fish and off course the mouth watering slow cooked Oxtail is in the top 5 items ordered by our customers.

What’s the one cooking tool that a chef should not be without?
One tool a Chef should not be without is their knife, and if I might add they must pack some passion & patience in delivering a true Authentic flavor/taste, because we take pride in keeping our culture alive in the food.

What inspires you when you are in the kitchen?
My Inspiration comes from doing something I truly Love. As well as sharing with others the most delicious cuisine in the WORLD! Jamaican cuisine! We are obviously Jamaicans proud of our culture 🙂

What is your favorite Jamaican meal?
My favorite Jamaican meal is Brown Stew Fish. Kerrick & I are fish lovers. 🙂 Although sometimes I crave oxtails.

If you were on a desert island and you could have one food what would it be..
Fish lol I told you we love fish. Bake it , fry it, roast it, steam it…all different ways we just love fish.

Growing your hero was…
My hero has always been my mom. I watched her took care of me and 5 other brothers and sisters, while my dad went out to work. She has taught me to be determined and to never give up! She recently went back to school at the age of 68! I am so very proud of her and I thank her for all that she taught me and my siblings.

As for my husband Kerrick it’s the same, his mother is also his hero. She migrated from Jamaican after the passing of his dad to come and make a better life for him and his siblings. He has taught him how to be hardworking and dedicated to whatever he put his mind to and to dream big.

We love our moms, plus they pass down some good recipes to us that we use in the restaurant! 🙂

Thanks for your time. Any closing words?
We would just like to say a HUGE thank you, for giving us this opportunity to share our story. It means a lot to us. We hope that our story will inspire others, to go after their dreams, no matter what it might be. YOU CAN DO IT! With God’s help the sky is still the limit. Stay tuned and look out for Irie Vibes Jamaican Cafe NEW YORK Location. It’s COMING SOON!! 🙂 Thanks again

Irie Vibes Jamaican Cafe
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