I lived in the city of Toronto for several years.
One wonderful thing about the place – which is Canada’s largest city – is its multiculturalism and how that has affected the city’s food offerings.
You can find any type of global cuisine in Toronto, but one of the most-celebrated cultures within the city is Caribbean.
Each summer, the annual Caribana Festival takes place; celebrating all things West Indies.
I love the dance, the art and the song, but being a chef I have to say the big, bold flavours found in that part of the world are what make me the most excited.
Having lived in Ireland for years, now, Jamaican flavours in particular are some I miss the most. Jerk chicken, roti, rice and beans and ackee and saltfish are hearty, delicious and, at times, mind-numbingly spicy. In recent years, Irish-Jamaican chef Nico Reynolds has started bringing these flavours to the Irish public – and to serious acclaim.
After gaining international recognition for his pop-up restaurant, Lil Portie (in his family’s part of Jamaica, locals are known as “Porties”), Nico has become a household name in Irish food media. He makes regular appearances in cooking segments like RTÉ’s Today Show, Virgin Media’s Ireland AM and was in-house chef for the TV programme Lodging with Lucy. He has recently launched his own series on RTÉ Player called Grill Seeker, which showcases his passion for cooking on barbecues.
Nico’s grandmother was Jamaican and he says he grew up always craving her cooking. In honour of his family’s Jamaican hometown, it made sense to call his food business Lil Portie.
“My family are Jamaican,” he explains. “And my dad’s side are from Roscommon. I’ve always loved my grandmother’s [Jamaican] food. Then, 10 years ago I started experimenting; combining Irish-Jamaican flavours. But I never had it in my mind that I was in any way professional!”
After secondary school, Nico spent several years travelling and working in the West Indies and South America. He came home a few years ago with a renewed love not only for his family’s unique food culture, but the amazing raw ingredients found at home in Ireland.
“As soon as I got back from South America, I said, ‘I’ll give Ireland two years and see how I feel about it – I’ll pour my heart and soul into my food and see what happens.’ Then Lil Portie became popular and [the rest is history].
“Ireland has such amazing raw ingredients,” he continues. “The beef, veggies – everything here just takes on so much great flavour, especially when you’re marinating and grilling like I always do. Of course the cheese is phenomenal.”
Cheese your way
Nick recently joined fellow TV chef Donal Skehan on an epic cheese journey through west Cork. This was part of the National Dairy Council’s (NDC) “Cheese Your Way” campaign, which encourages consumers to explore the many varieties of cheese found in Ireland.
Nick and Donal’s journey to make the most epic grilled cheese sandwich is available to watch now on RTÉ Player. Called Donal and Nico’s Cheesy Road Trip, the short film follows their travels through west Cork, where they visit with farmhouse cheesemakers (like Gubbeen and Durrus) and attempt to find the ultimate combination to make the best grilled cheese sandwich.
“I hadn’t been to that part of Ireland in ages, probably not in 15 years and it was just so fun to see those places again,” Nico says.
“We went to the cheese factory at Durrus using the sat nav and we’d be climbing up into the clouds, seeing the coastline of Ireland. With these farmhouses cheeses, you can almost taste the passion – and those little pockets of Ireland.
“We also went to Ron B’s cheese toasty place in Ballydehob,” he continues. “They just keep going ‘til they sell out – they’re open once a week on a Wednesday.”
The perfect combo
The short film culminates in the duo making their own signature grilled cheeses using their own special ingredients. For Nico? He had to bring a bit of home flavour to his grilled cheese creation.
“I used lime and coriander with durrus and a Dubliner cheddar, then I used the Gubbeen,” he says. “It was beyond decadent. I probably ended up using a pint of butter!
“Being half-Caribbean, I had to add my signature flavours to my grilled cheese sandwich,” he adds. “I included coriander and lime to elevate it to another level. I’m a huge barbecue fan so it was great to be able to cook the sandwiches on our portable barbecue on the beach at Galley Cove – and then we had to have a swim afterwards.”