Spicy jerk stokes hot con­tro­versy at AF1

Caribbean spot de­liv­ers hot par­ties – and heated de­bate about real jerk


AF1 Caribbean Can­teen oc­cu­pies what some have called a “cursed” lo­ca­tion, a cor­ner spot at Col­lege and Clin­ton that’s had a half-dozen ten­ants over the past few years. So far, chef Adrian Forte ap­pears to have dodged that streak of bad luck, though not with­out get­ting a few hairs singed off in the process.

At AF1’s open­ing bash this spring, the pa­tio was packed to the gills, as was their cus­tom-built smoker.

“We had this whole thing stuffed with, like, 300 pounds of chicken,” Forte says. The ex­tra grease set­tled at the bot­tom of the bar­rel of the smoker, pick­ing up enough heat to ig­nite and send flames shoot­ing into the sky.

“I came out­side and saw it hap­pen­ing, and I was like – ‘the chicken!’ I was pulling the carts out of the smoker, not even think­ing about the fact that it was on fire, and, like, I could die.”

The chicken, un­sur­pris­ingly, was un­sal­vage­able, and the smoker still bears the scars – the heat burned a hole right through a metal grate.

“Peo­ple stuck around af­ter,” Forte adds. “Six trucks came, put the fire out, and peo­ple still hung out. That’s how I know it was a good party.”

With that ex­cite­ment out of the way, Forte (also of chicken-and-waf­fles spot The Dirty Bird) has set­tled into a larger mis­sion: serv­ing jerk chicken the way they do it in Ja­maica.

That’s proven to be a way tougher sell than one might think. “Let’s put it

this way – there’s a Toronto type of jerk chicken, and a Ja­maican type of jerk chicken,” he says.

In Ja­maica, the Kingston na­tive ex­plains, jerk refers to smok­ing over pi­mento wood, not nec­es­sar­ily the mari­nade or sea­son­ing. “Our chicken’s very smoky, which is which is what jerk chicken is. Jerk is a process. You could put a carrot in that smoker and it would be jerk.” On top of the three-hour smok­ing process, Forte grinds his own spice rub and makes his own 13-in­gre­di­ent mari­nade.

Opin­ion­ated cus­tomers tell Forte the saucy, sweet­ish, smoke-laced end re­sult is too close to bar­be­cue, or point out the pink ring in­side the chicken, a by-prod­uct of the smok­ing process, and tell him it’s un­der­cooked.

“They’re used to the chicken that’s baked in the oven and slathered in a jerk sauce, right? But peo­ple who have been to Ja­maica, who’ve been to (Ja­maican jerk restau­rant fam­ily) Scotchies, who’ve been to all the clas­sic jerk places, they come in here like, ‘You’re do­ing it right.’

“I’ve al­ready con­vinced my­self we’re not gonna make ev­ery­one happy. What I tell my staff is, we don’t make food for peo­ple who don’t like our food.”

Chef Adrian Forte smokes his jerk for three hours over pi­mento wood.

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