“I hope learning about our roots is something that stays with my sons”: Views from chef Craig Wong’s Jamaican reunion

“I hope learning about our roots is something that stays with my sons”: Views from chef Craig Wong’s Jamaican reunion

Featuring a whole roast goat, fresh island produce and the world’s best KFC

Who: Craig Wong, owner and chef at Patois
Where: Jamaica
When: December 2022 to January 2023

I was born in Scarborough, but a lot of my family lives in Jamaica. I usually go back to spend time with my cousins. After my youngest son, Knox, was born in 2019, my wife, Ivy, and I talked about another visit. I wanted my sons to have a connection to Jamaica and to experience the things that I grew up doing, like finding frogs in a creek and watching goats being raised.

We planned to go during the winter holidays and set out on December 18 for two weeks, but the trip began on an unfortunate note: the airline lost our bags. Still, we made the best of it.

In Kingston, we stayed with my cousin Lisa and her family. They live in a townhouse in a neighbourhood called ­Liguanea, a community of about 40 homes. We were all in a bit of a daze when we arrived (and after finally reclaiming our bags), so for Christmas, we kept things casual and just got KFC for dinner. Jamaican KFC is incredible: the quality of the chicken is better, and they use a stronger seasoning.

A few days later, my cousin’s friend, Lincoln, hosted a big potluck at his house. They sourced and cooked up a whole mountain goat. The entrails go into a soup called mannish water, which is typically served during big celebrations.

New Year’s Eve was another potluck. The community all got together for a big block party, and everyone prepared their favourite dishes. One person brought out a drum pan to cook drum pan chicken. Another made rice and peas. Our family made glazed ham and crème brûlée. But none of us made it to the countdown—we were exhausted and in bed before midnight, myself and Ivy included.

Some of my family members own grocery stores, and when we visited them, my sons noticed that the produce was different from the apples and pears in Toronto. It gave me the opportunity to share with them where our food comes from. They got to see pine­apples, coconuts and mangoes growing on trees. They’re used to seeing ackee in cans, but I showed them how it needs to ripen on the tree. By the end, I could see how they appreciated that we have foods from all over the world in Canada, and being able to bring that lesson home really resonated with me.

I think our kids are still mentally unpacking the trip, and we’re getting little glimpses of that process. One day after we got home, Milo told Ivy, “Mommy, when we were at the beach in Jamaica, the sunsets were the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” For them to have that connection with Jamaica and to understand the roots of our family—I hope it’s something that stays with them.