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Meet Julius ‘The Chef’ Jackson and His Caribbean Kitchen Cookbook

By Rachel George

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I met Julius ‘The Chef’ Jackson at a dinner reception in St. Croix for the James Beard Foundation. He’s an actor, author, title-holding professional boxer with 20 wins and 16 KO’s, a former Olympic competitor, and obviously, a chef.  He was serving his exquisite saltfish and fennel dish, which was absolutely divine and worthy of a second go round.

Born and raised on the island of St. Thomas, Jackson enters kitchens around the world with his recently released cookbook My Modern Caribbean Kitchen. The cookbook offers 70 Caribbean recipes from some island favorites such as kallaloo pasta, oxtails and other classics made with his own flavor. The book is dedicated to the islands devastated by Hurricane Irma and Maria in the past few years. The hurricanes delayed his cookbook due to lack of electricity and internet service at the time. 

We caught up with the boxer-turned-chef to talk about his master culinary skills and what it is like in his Modern Caribbean Kitchen.

How did you get into the culinary industry?

I love to eat and being hungry was just not for me. I would run to the kitchen, every time my mom was cooking. I’d stand right under her to wait for the first taste of whatever she was making. After a while, I said I needed to do this myself. I always paid attention to what she was doing. So the first meal I made was fried chicken. I was ten years old. But my older sister put the oil on for me, and I seasoned the chicken and threw it in the pot. That’s what hunger will do to you.

What’s been the most exciting part of being able to do what you love, cook and eat?

The most exciting part was culinary school at Florida Culinary Institute. Being from a small island, because of boxing, I never stayed in one place for a long time. Being in a place where so many people want the same thing, it was awesome — bouncing off ideas, talking about food, experiencing new food. I was training for the Olympics at the same time, so that made it crazier. But it was awesome because I was pursuing two goals at the same time. It was a beautiful time in life, super hard, but beautiful. That same year, I graduated from culinary school. I went to the Olympics in 2008.

Photo Courtesy of Julius ‘The Chef’ Jackson

 

How was it? Training for the Olympics and being in culinary cooking all of this good food, you probably could not eat?

It was actually awesome. When a country is participating in the Olympics, they can only send one athlete or fighter from your team in that weight class. I’m a light heavyweight. Another person weighed the same, so I had to move up a weight class. So I had to eat well to keep my weight up and gain 10 lbs of muscle.

So What’s it like in Your Caribbean Kitchen?

Most of the book has recipes that I’ve been using since I left culinary school. I was classically trained in French and Italian classical cuisine and when I came back home to St. Thomas, I wanted to learn the same recipes that I grew up on. I also took a lot of recipes that I like to eat because of how traditional it is, and I thought it would be awesome to put in a book. A lot of times, chefs, everywhere usually don’t write it down or measure things out. A lot of these recipes, I called my aunts and uncles, and they would tell me to just “put it in your hand and throw it in the pot.” Some people learn better by watching or talking about it. So to put it down was a little difficult. But it was important to put it down so that others can know the food I grew up on.

What kind of food did you grow up on?

St. Thomas food. Cruzan cuisine is a big melting pot of cultures. All in one we have a lot of  Jamaican influence, Spanish influence, island influence, which is why you have your kallaloo, stewed chicken and oxtails. We do a lot of plantains, soups, that’s our African influence.

Slow-cooked Stewed Oxtails recipe.

 

Do you see yourself opening a restaurant in the near future?

That’s the plan, further down the road. I am currently head chef and manager of my brother workshop cafe and bakery. Nonprofit, we train at-risk youth in vocational skills, counseling, that takes up most of my time.

Julius ‘The Chef” Jackson is currently working on his west coast book tour to Las Vegas, Sacramento and more. Stay up to date with Julius Jackson via Instagram at juliusthechef1 or his website www.juliusthechefjacksontour.com.

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