By JOE FIORITO Columnist
Mon., July 4, 2016
The new barbecue at the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre is evidence of community generosity, and proof that there is jerk chicken in the forecast.
A notice popped up in the electronic mail the other day: PARC, putting out a call for a donation of cash to buy a barbecue, sufficient to the needs of those who come for lunch.
PARC: the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre, on Queen West; is where some come for companionship and others come for help, advice, or simply for a safe place to rest.
The response was swift; within seconds there was money in hand. I was curious, in part because I’d heard the cook is new, and so I called.
Tessa White said that the first meal she would cook on the new barbecue would be something jerked. My little heart leapt, because there are as many nuances to jerk as there are to black cake, which, in this column, is the official cake of Toronto.
I have never made jerk.
Tessa said she’d be happy to show me. I arrived shortly after lunch the other day. She had made chicken, and a green salad with roasted potatoes; there must have been a look on my face because she said the last plate had just gone out.
But I was not there for lunch.
On the workstation in front of her, Tessa had cups and bowls set out and they were filled with water, soya sauce and vinegar; she also had lemon juice, and a huge bowl of onions and scallions, and smaller ones of ginger and garlic.
She began by packing some brown sugar into a cup, dumping it in a pot and setting it over a low fire on the stove.
Brown sugar? “I’m going to make a molasses.” The purpose, as you might guess, is to provide colour, and to add depth of flavor. Sugar over heat requires attention, so I offered to stir while Tessa began to puree the onions, along with the garlic and ginger, which she moistened with splashes of the liquids, and the smell in the kitchen made me swoon.
Who taught her to cook?
She kept an eye on her work. “Nobody taught me. My mom had a cook shop. We were around her all the time, but we were not allowed.”
That’s how it sometimes works: you can bring a kid to the kitchen, or you can deprive her of the stove and see if she is drawn to it. Tessa was drawn:
“My mother went out one day and she disconnected the gas from the oven. That wasn’t going to stop me. I had my friends over. I made a cake and cooked it on top of the stove.”
A cake, on top of the stove? “I was ten. It was burned. We ate it anyway, and we loved it.”
As you would.
Before she came to PARC, Tessa cooked for one of the social agencies on the furthest edges of Scarborough. “I worked there for eight years.” She lives near Islington and the 401; call it nine years, given the time she spent commuting. The PARC job made sense, if only geographically.
For her audition, she was given two trays of sausages and the run of the pantry; she made chili.
It must have been good.
She looked at the sugar I had been stirring, and it was syrupy and dark, and so she added it to the blender and then set the pot aside and said, “Marie, you’re going to kill me.” Marie does the dishes; melted sugar, when it hardens, is murder to clean from pots.
And into the mixture went cumin, coriander, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and dried thyme –fresh is better, but she’s on a budget – as well as salt and pimento, which you know as allspice.
I get mine from the supermarket; Tessa got hers from her mother, who brought it back fresh from Jamaica.
Alas, I cannot give you amounts; she measures by hand or by eye. But even if I had precise measurements, she was making enough for an army, and you are a few, and in my house we are two.
Tessa said, “The only thing missing is scotch bonnet. I’m not going to give them some. I’ll make a pepper sauce to serve on the side.” Scotch bonnets are murderous peppers; not everyone can take the heat.
Her first meal on the new barbecue – it is big enough to make 150 burgers at a time – will be jerk chicken. Okay, step back a bit.
Why does PARC need barbecue?
Those who live in single rooms tend not to have grills, but we all have the right, in the summer, to the taste of salt and fat and smoke. And, frankly, we all deserve a little pleasure on the plate, because taste is our most frequent and our most private joy, and when that joy is shared it makes us most glad to be human.
Tessa’s job is to serve some 70,000 meals a year, as well as to supervise the cook and the 18,000 meals served next door at Edmond Place.
And I’m a jerk for her jerk.
This article is taken from TheStar.com