Yellowknifers yearning for far-off places will soon be able to get a taste of the tropics from home thanks to chef and business-owner Johnelle Joseph.
Four years ago, Joseph brought her homemade Jamaican-style jerk chicken to a Yellowknife potluck — she says people haven’t stopped asking for it since.
“They asked me, ‘Why don’t you sell your food?’,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to start my own catering business and restaurant.”
Now, she’s about to do just that.
She’s been documenting her culinary adventures so far on Instagram @Tasteoftheislandsnwt and it’s where she’ll announce the final menu and when she’s taking orders.
Joseph grew up in Jamaica and moved to Canada when she was 20 years old. She moved to Yellowknife five years ago and says she noticed the absence of familiar Caribbean food and ingredients right away.
The hardest part of her business is getting her hands on the ingredients she needs to create her dishes, she says.
Items like cassava root — a starchy root vegetable that’s an essential staple in Caribbean and Latin American kitchens — and the potent scotch bonnet pepper are just not readily available in Yellowknife in the quantities or as often as her business requires.
She tries her best to source everything she can from local businesses. In some cases, she has to have products shipped from Toronto or Alberta, but other needs leave her no choice but to go straight to the source, taking trips to Jamaica to stock up.
Joseph says she grew up learning to cook from her grandmother, a professional chef.
She didn’t even stop to think when asked if she favoured a particular dish of her grandmother’s.
“Escovitch fish,” she replies. The classic Caribbean dish boasts a whole, fried snapper topped with a spicy sauce and lightly-pickled carrots and scotch bonnet peppers served with a fried dumpling, which Joseph likens to fry bread.
While she hasn’t shared the finalized menu yet, she promised hearty portions, jerk chicken and a vegan option.
Joseph says her new catering and fresh food-delivery service will start with limited hours — just weekends. It’s just Joseph, who still works another job, tending to orders with a little help from her partner, for now.
Depending on how business goes, she said she’s hasn’t ruled out that restaurant.