Toronto diners are always looking to catch the next wave. They have gone crazy over Italian pizza, Korean Pho and French every- thing. Mexican burritos and Japanese cheese cake. But when will it be Caribbean cuisine’s time in the bright lights of Canada’s biggest resto-crazy city?
According to newly arrived chef Noel Cunningham, 2020 is the year that people start craving what we have known all along: Caribbean food rocks!
“It’s going to the next big thing,” said the young Jamaican Canadian chef. “And we aren’t just talking jerk!”
“You know the thing about our food is that we come at you with a vibe, with a swagger,” Cunningham told me by phone from Jamaica over the recent holidays. “When you eat our food you are also eating our music and our style. Toronto is so diverse; there is no way that this isn’t our time.” “For me as a Jamaican chef who is now on the International scene I don’t want to be held in a box as just the Jamaican chef that does jerk only. I aim at promoting and encouraging fusion cuisine. Jamaican Fusion, yes that is THE big trend for 2020. Cross cultural cuisine is taking center stage.”
He was born and educated in Kingston, Jamaica. After graduating from high school, he attended the prestigious Runaway Bay Heart Hotel & Training Institute where he studied Commercial Cooking and graduated as a line chef.
His first cooking gigs were in Jamaica including a yearlong gig cooking local Jamaican dishes at the Hedonism Club. He came to Canada only a few years ago and started cooking in the wilds of Manitoba (Winnipeg to be exact).
Still haven’t heard of Noel Cunningham? Don’t fret it, you will soon. The 29-year old has only been in town since June, buthe is already getting the spotlight for his catering company, his media appearances and of course his cooking. He also has a new book out this week. He has a YouTube cooking show and his catering company Cuisine by Noel is getting the good gigs.
You will see him cooking on TV this month ... a lot. He has media interviews already booked to pro- mote the new book. He has quickly learned the tough skill of cooking and talking at the same time on live TV. He does it with panache and speed.
So in 2020 what is his Caribbean Fusion all about? He says among other things he likes to mix Jamaican and Italian with hot and cold.
A favourite, easy- to-make dish that the chef prepares is Jerk Chicken Coconut Cream Pasta. Another Cunningham mash-up combines Jamaican and American tastes together. His traditional American BBQ pork chops, bite, thanks to his addition of rich Caribbean spices, ketchup, honey, chili powder and orange juice. The meal is often served with his special spicy rustic mashed Potatoes.
The new book, (also called Cuisine by Noel), has seven chapters of Caribbean fusion-in- spired dishes, created for the new decade. The author likes cooking simple dishes using fresh and sustainable ingredients.
This love of mixing cultural styles and ingredients continues at the desert table. The Caribbean Camera checked out his recipe for a different tasting Carrot Cake – “This Carrot Cake is loaded with pineapple, chopped raisins and pecans!” he said. “Your readers will also like our Cornmeal and Coconut Pudding and this recipe is also in the book.”
Cunningham is serious about his cooking, but he has the joy of youth, and on the phone, is quick with a laugh. Check out what he wrote on Social Media when he found out that he was in the running for a ByBlacks Award.
“When you wake up to an email saying that you are one of the top three finalist for the People’s Choice Award for the Best Black Canadian Chef in Toronto you are glad you never wake up dead.”