Mar 23, 2012
By Susan Varghese
Standard Associate Editor
Caribbean flavor has come to Cedarhurst. Ox tails, jerk chicken, snapper and stews, are all available at the new Caribbean eatery, Chef Mom Grill and Bakery, which opened at the end of January.
Owner, Nicola Smith, was born and raised in Jamaica and moved to the U.S. when she was 20-years-old. “It’s lacking Caribbean flavor here. So, I decided to take the chance and open it here,” Smith said.
She went to the Institute of Culinary Education and is a pastry chef with a background in management. Smith developed her love for cooking as a young girl, cooking and baking with her grandmother. “That’s where it started,” she said.
Smith recalled making sweet potato pudding and Jamaican black cake (fruit cake), which was very tedious to prepare. “ I would have to sit and grate four hours [for the sweet potato pudding].” For the cake, I was the mixer. I would sit for two days to cream the butter and sugar. We’d put it under the sun and mix, mix, mix. Those were my two favorites my grandmother made and I make them very well now thanks to her.”
Chef Mom offers authentic Caribbean food, similar to what Smith had as a child. “As a kid in Jamaica, I remember running around barefoot,” Smith said. “We’d get breakfast at home which would probably be homemade porridge, oats, plantains all of which we have here in the bakery. Then we’d be outside, running and playing. For lunch, we’d climb the fruit trees and pick mangoes, or sweetsop. We didn’t get back home until dinner. Then we’d have one of the dishes we offer here, like curried chicken or goat.”
The name Chef Mom came about after she graduated culinary school and her kids weren’t sure whether to call her chef or mom. “My oldest child said, why don’t we just call you both? That’s how chef mom came about,” Smith said, laughing.
A popular dish at the grill is the jerk chicken, which can also be served with Asian fried rice for a twist. Their Jamaican Beef Patties and coco bread are from the company, Royal Caribbean. They don’t make their own patties yet, but Smith said they’d like to eventually make them fresh at the grill. In their bakery, they offer homemade baked goods like carrot cake, red velvet cake and sweet potato pudding, which are all made on the premises.
For those that are new to Caribbean food, Smith had some suggestions. “If you’re a chicken lover, try the chicken in brown gravy stew. Oxtail is also something to start light. Jerk [chicken] may be something you want to work up to because it has a little spice. Start with stew chicken and work your way up.”
Caribbean food is not a quick food to make, which is what makes it special, Smith explained. “It’s special because of the love and care that goes into it. It doesn’t prepare in 15 to 30 minutes. Some of the dishes have to start being prepared days before. It’s the details, the spicing and flavor, it all has to be perfect.”
A few customers come into the store, ordering chicken and goat dishes. A few order a slice of red velvet cake. Each person is greeted with a “Hi, darling,” by Smith.
“There’s a saying back in Jamaica,” Smith said with a smile. “ ‘Jamaica — no problem.’ When you walk in here, I want you to feel welcomed. Because when you go to Jamaica, that’s the feeling you get. “
Chef Mom Grill and Bakery is located at 450A Rockaway Turnpike in Cedarhurst. (516) 371-2433. Cakes can also be ordered and made for special occasions.
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