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You haven’t eaten wings until you’ve had jerked wings. That’s according to Milton Jones, chef and owner of Caribbean Cuisine in Houston. To craft the authentic taste Jamaican food is known for, Jones relies on a careful blend of homemade seasonings – not spiciness – and draws on old-fashioned cooking methods passed down from his grandmother. We caught up with Jones to learn the inspiration behind the Caribbean Cuisine menu and to find out which of his dishes the lunch crowd craves.
The original owners realized that people wanted Caribbean food but there was nowhere to get it. They opened Caribbean Cuisine in 1983 as the first Caribbean restaurant in Houston. I come from a family of restaurant owners – my father is a restaurateur in Jamaica – and his passion inspired me to own a restaurant. After I left the army I went to culinary school and took ownership of Caribbean Cuisine in 2013.
I come from a Jamaican background so I’m passionate about Jamaican food. Before I took ownership of the restaurant I cooked at home and for others. I just enjoy the taste of Jamaican food; I can’t get enough of the robust flavors.
Our best seller is oxtail followed by jerk chicken. We braise our oxtail just the way my grandmother did. First we season the oxtail and let it marinate, then we brown it and braise it with vegetables until tender. We take extreme measures to make sure the flavoring is right. The oxtail is seasoned with thyme, allspice, and onions. The number one spice is allspice, which is native to Jamaica and made with pimento berry.
The biggest misconception consumers have about Caribbean food is that it’s extremely spicy. Spice is a choice. The main pepper in Caribbean cooking is the scotch bonnet pepper and some people overuse it, which is where the extra spice comes from. Caribbean cuisine is not as much about spiciness as it is about flavor. Spiciness is an excuse to not take the time to blend the spices properly to get the flavor Caribbean food is known for.
We stick with traditional ways of cooking. There are shortcuts with oxtail, but I don’t take them. I don’t know of any other Caribbean restaurants that brown the oxtail. Most restaurants only make stews but I cook the oxtail traditionally. We also have a bakery where we make our pastries. Other restaurants buy their pastries frozen but they make everything else from scratch. Our number one selling pastry item is the beef patty – we can’t keep up with the demand.
We want to firm up our foundation before thinking about expanding. We’re doing renovations in the restaurant and have some new menu items planned. It’s only me and one other chef working in the kitchen because we want to focus on consistency.
Fooda consumers voted Caribbean Cuisine the best lunch in Houston. The next time you see chef Jones slinging plates of braised oxtail or jerk chicken at Fooda events, don’t be afraid to ask for a sample!