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Jamaican-Canadian celebrity chef Adrian Forte still remembers what it was like to see his grandmother cook for the first time.
“I was just really amazed at how she would just take these simple, humble ingredients and transform them,” he told The current† “I was like, ‘This is like magic.'”
Forte’s grandmother was the matriarch of the family in Jamaica. She had seven children and numerous grandchildren — and Forte said she made sure each of them knew how to cook, including the men.
“She always said, ‘You have to be able to cook, because then you are more valuable as a husband,'” said the chef from Toronto.
I firmly believe that if you can consume someone’s culture, you will gain a greater understanding of their struggle.-Adriaan Forte
With a house full of amateur chefs, he said cooking could get competitive, but it also brought the family closer together.
That stayed with Forte as he transitioned to the top of the culinary scene, taking chef positions on Gangster Burger and Rock Lobster and a semifinal in Season Eight of Top Chef Canada.
“I like to think of food as the culinary channel that brings us together,” he said. “That’s why I love doing what I do: bringing people together, learning about my culture and my background, and getting to know me.”
Togetherness and education are two of the main themes behind his new cookbook, Yawd: Modern Afro-Caribbean Recipeswhich will hit store shelves on June 7.
The book is a collection of Afro-Caribbean recipes, but also teaches readers the historical relevance of certain dishes and ingredients.
“I always try to use my food in my creations as a way to educate people,” Forte said. “I firmly believe that if you can consume someone’s culture, you will gain a greater understanding of their struggle.”
Pap as a time machine
One of the recipes in Forte’s cookbook is for porridge, one of Forte’s favorite dishes to make.
“Growing up in Jamaica, one of the first things I learned to make was porridge because it was so easy,” he said.
Forte said Dad is like a time machine to him. When he tastes it, he remembers playing cricket with all his friends at age 11 after eating porridge from his uncle’s large pot.
He also remembers Jamaican street vendors who would drive 64-gallon jars of porridge on a cart—and the show they put on when they handed out porridge to the neighborhood.
“They do a really high pour…like a cocktail,” he said. “It doesn’t miss. Not a drop. And he puts it on his head and he dances and takes your money and gives it to you. And you think, ‘Well, how does he do that?'”
“That’s kind of where my first excitement about putting on a show when I was cooking came from seeing these people doing things like that.”
Forte said there are a variety of porridges Jamaicans make, from carrot porridge to peanut porridge. But his favorite is oatmeal — which he makes with his own twist.
“I put my own spin on it with the pineapple juice. It’s not traditional, but it’s my take on it,” he said.
Cooking oatmeal porridge at home
As part of the interview experience, Forte showed: The Current’s Matt Galloway how he makes his version of cornmeal porridge – and the delicious value of Afro-Caribbean cuisine.
WATCH † Chef Adrian Forte shows host Matt Galloway how to make Jamaican oatmeal:
Readers can also make their own oatmeal porridge at home. Below is Forte’s recipe for oatmeal porridge, the same recipe he used in the video and in his debut cookbook.
-1 cup fine cornmeal
-1 cup full-fat coconut milk
-1 cup pineapple juice
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp ground allspice
-1 tsp ground nutmeg
-1 cinnamon stick
-1 cup condensed milk
-1 tsp vanilla extract
-Fresh pineapple pieces, to serve
– Ground cinnamon, to serve
Preparation: 2 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cornmeal, coconut milk, pineapple juice, salt, allspice, nutmeg, and cinnamon stick.
2. Heat over medium heat, stirring with a whisk to avoid lumps. Cook the cornmeal until it thickens and has a porridge consistency, about 10 minutes. Add the condensed milk and vanilla, cook for another 30 seconds, then remove from heat.
3. Divide the porridge into bowls and garnish with pineapple and a pinch of ground cinnamon.
Written by Mouhamad Rachini. Produced by Julie Crystals. Video created and edited by Andrew Nguyen.