Five minutes with… Nicholas Beckford

Ting Irie executive chef Nicholas Beckford on serving the boldly flavoured food of his native Jamaica to diners in the Middle East
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Ting Irie, Nicholas Beckford, Caribbean food, Arabic cuisine

Describe one of your earliest food memories?

I am the eldest of two and my mother was the cook in our family preparing an array of Jamaican classics. Every Wednesday she would prepare my favourite dish, Jamaican stewed peas, which I could eat everyday if I had a chance. I used to beg my mom to have it every day and she once jokingly replied, ‘Go make it on your own’. I saved up my lunch allowance for a month with the intention of surprising her with my stewed peas after watching her making it for years. I was sure that I had this dish covered.

I went home early after getting my ingredients and started my cooking attempt, it took about 20 minutes just to turn on the gas and everything after that was a total disaster. When she got home and saw the mayhem, she laughed until she started crying and said: “My little chef.”

Who or what inspired you to become a chef?

My inspiration came from making Sunday family dinners, as my mother would take leftovers for her lunch on Mondays. Her co-workers were drawn to the aroma; eventually they started sending money with my mom to buy more ingredients, with little notes such as, “Tell chef the chicken was amazing.” It made me think this could be a future career that I stumbled upon. Seeing their happiness made me feel great joy. I started looking at culinary school.

Why do you think Caribbean food is so popular in this region?

Caribbean food’s popularity comes from the vibrancy of the dishes. Our bold flavours mixed with our love for fresh herbs and spices, coupled with the Caribbean being so far from the UAE, people see our food as exotic. There are major similarities with Arabic cuisine and for expatriates who know the Caribbean, it’s easy to see why our cuisine has done well here.

How do you ensure the dishes you serve are authentic?

Authenticity is obtained by having a predominately Jamaican team; my two sous chefs and I are Jamaican to the core. We are making dishes that we have grown up having in the streets of Jamaica all our life. With the UAE being far, the greatest care is taken to source our ingredients, even if that means these ingredients are directly flown from the Caribbean.

What is the biggest misconception about Caribbean food?

It is widely thought that Caribbean food is just spicy and cannot be presented in a gourmet setting. While we are not gourmet, we have proven that spicy doesn’t mean it’s hot. Our cuisine is built on flavours, with numerous dishes that aren’t hot, but full of spice and layers of flavour.

What are the outstanding dishes on your menu at Ting Irie?

Our signature ‘spitfiyah jerk chicken’ is the first to come to mind, served with ‘groovy gravy’ and tropical mango and scotch bonnet salsa. Our ‘oxtail cocobun sandwiches’ are also divine. Our oxtail is slow braised for two hours, pulled off the bone, wrapped in our home-made cocobun and topped with our sweet coleslaw. This dish flies out of our kitchen and is considered life changing.

What project are you working on next?

We are always trying new dishes, new ways to introduce different flavours and pairing our flavour and techniques with that of different cultures and cuisines. We are looking to add some delicious black truffle to our menu, as we think it would pair well with our bold flavours.

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