In an effort to diversify its menu offerings, restaurants are starting to offer up their kitchen layouts in a variety of ways.
CBC’s Carol Off recently caught up with restaurateur Steve O’Connor, who runs O’Conners Italian Kitchen in Jamaica, and explained how the concept is taking off.
O’Connor has been making Italian cuisine for over 30 years.
He also has a history of serving African American customers, and his kitchen is an homage to his heritage.
The menu, for now, is limited to traditional Italian cuisine, but O’Connors hopes to expand the menu in the future.
“I think what’s important is that you want to offer something that has some African American and Caribbean flavour to it,” he said.
“It’s important to me that there’s something that represents Jamaican culture.”
O’Conner hopes to serve African American patrons as well.
“My aim is to serve people that look like me, who look like the people that came to Jamaica,” he explained.
“They’re not the white people that come to Jamaica.
They’re the African American people who come to our country.”
Odette and his family were born in Jamaica and moved to the United States when they were young.
When he started O’Cons, he didn’t have any experience cooking in the Caribbean, so he was initially hesitant to open a restaurant in Jamaica.
He decided to bring Jamaican cooking back to the States and open O’Cooks.
“It was a really big leap to open this restaurant here in Jamaica,” O’Connell said.
But his initial hesitation turned into a real sense of pride when he saw how well the menu was doing in the U.S.
A few months later, he was approached by a woman who was interested in the restaurant.
He says he has never met anyone who wanted to open up a restaurant here that is so much more than the food itself.
Odettes mother was a longtime Jamaican immigrant, and he knew she was passionate about bringing the cuisine back to her home country.
Oddly enough, O’conners mom is also a native of Jamaica, too.
He recalls how his mother always told him, “If you’re not from Jamaica, you’re a bum.”
That sentiment is also reflected in the menu.
“She told me she loves me because of my heritage, and she loves Jamaica.
I can’t think of a better way to honor my heritage than by having a restaurant with Jamaican food,” Ockins mom said.
The kitchen is in the same area as O’ Cooks sister restaurant, La Llorona.
While the menu is largely focused on Caribbean cuisine, it’s important that O’CONNS menu is varied enough to keep customers interested.
He said he’s tried to offer a variety that reflects the Caribbean cuisine that is popular here.
“I want the menu to reflect what the Jamaican community is like, and that’s to be authentic,” O Connor said.
“When we do a cookbook, we’re always thinking about what’s authentic and what’s not,” he added.
“We’re always looking for a little bit of everything.”