Cayman does not lay claim to inventing jerk chicken, but one young man in East End is producing his own fiery blend of char-grilled perfection to tantalize customers.
Five years ago, Jameion Bodden, 34, did not know he would end up a cook with his own business. The idea took root after he received high praise for his jerk chicken from family and friends.
His jerk stand occupies a spot just down the main road from Pirate’s Cove Bar in East End. After a few drinks, customers wander down the street as the aroma of chicken roasting on the grill lures them.
Customers from across the island travel to East End to sample his chicken. Friday night last week was no exception. Within minutes of his white truck with its black smoker hitched to the back pulling in, a group of people began placing orders.
“Jerk chicken ready?” a well-dressed couple ready for a night on the town inquired as they made their way across the road. Past the smoker where Mr. Bodden was busy turning chicken on the grill, they stopped at the serving table and placed an order with Mr. Bodden’s fiancée Deany.
The chicken is chopped into bite-size pieces on a butcher block and placed in a Styrofoam container, a towel is quickly spread over the chopping block and the chicken is doused with a blend of homemade sauce if requested. Two slices of bread are placed on top and rice and beans can be added to the serving.
Don’t ask what’s in his blend of sauce and seasonings. Like any cook, Mr. Bodden closely guards his secret recipe. “All I can tell you is the chicken is seasoned days in advance,” he said.
He’s not a “regular” jerk cook either. If you want it dry, wet, half-cooked, burned or whatever, he accommodates you.
The style of seasoned food called jerk refers to a way that foods, whether chicken, beef, pork, goat, fish, vegetables or fruit, are seasoned and cooked. The style comes from Jamaica and typically uses a marinade or paste that includes at least pimento, the berries of which are called allspice, and Scotch bonnet peppers.
“I know people coming from George Town, West Bay, passing so many jerk pans on the way … there must be something special in East End, so I want to make everyone comfortable,” he said with a chuckle.
“Lots of people love the chicken and jerk pork too … I put a lot a love into it,” he said, adding that some people are always calling to find out where he’s parked. “The way it’s going it looks pretty good, and I get lots of support from locals and visitors.”
Some Friday nights, Mr. Bodden, who lost his right eye in a fireworks accident, prepares food until 2 a.m., but he says it’s well worth it. He also offers catering for parties, weddings, cruises and other functions.
Originally from East End, Mr. Bodden says the birth of his daughter Jameilia was the impetus for his choosing to go into business for himself, after working for years in his day job with the National Roads Authority. “Before that I was wild,” he said.
He calls his jerk business “Jameion Jerk Chicken MIEE, Made in East End.” He wants to leave a legacy for his daughter. At just 3 years old, Jameilia already knows about running the business. When her mother slips on gloves to serve the chicken, Jameilia follows suit. Then it’s off to the smoker with dad. She picks up the spray gun and begins to douse the chicken as Dad turns the chicken on the grill.
Mr. Bodden always had a love for cooking, which he said began at the age of 8 from watching his grandmother Reta Rankine in the kitchen.
“Grandma Reta was a very good cook. She could cook beef stew, turtle stew and fish … she cooked everything good. I always thought I would be cooking something one day, I just didn’t think it would be jerk chicken,” Mr. Bodden said.
Looking back on life, he thanks God for letting him watch his grandmother in the kitchen.
“Reta Rankine raised me … it was kind of difficult but I think she did a great job,” he said.
Mr. Bodden has a dream of one day having jerk locations in East End, North Side and George Town. “A lot of people want me in town, I just need to get another grill,” he said.
The ambitious young man has used his Made in East End brand on a wide range of clothing, hats, shoes, belts and other accessories.
He admits it’s a strain working by day and making jerk chicken by night, but Mr. Bodden says he has plans to hire help in the future. Some people even want him to offer his jerk chicken on Sundays, but that is the time he says is spent with family.