Jamie Oliver’s decision to sell a jerk rice dish has been branded a “mistake” by chef and entrepreneur Levi Roots, who previously showed him how to make the marinade on his TV show.
Oliver was criticised on Saturday by Labour’s shadow equalities minister, Dawn Butler, who questioned whether he knew what ‘jerk’ was, in a cultural appropriation row that has simmered ever since.
Jerk is a traditional Jamaican marinade consisting of two main ingredients – allspice and scotch bonnet peppers – but variations of the dish have been known to include thyme, soy sauce, ginger, lime, garlic, onions and sugar.
Butler, the daughter of Jamaican immigrants, hit out at Oliver on Twitter saying ‘jerk’ isn’t just a word “you put before stuff to sell products”.
“Your jerk rice is not ok. This appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop,” she added, before asking Jamaican-born Roots – who appeared on BBC Dragons’ Den with his now-bestselling Reggae Reggae barbecue sauce – whether he could give Oliver a lesson.
Appearing on ITV’s Good Morning Britain on Monday, Roots said: “I do think it was a mistake by Jamie – either by him or by his team. Maybe he wasn’t actually involved in this.”
Roots told GMB that he had already shown Oliver how to make “the real deal” jerk chicken, having appeared on the chef’s YouTube channel several years ago.
He agreed with presenter Kate Garraway’s suggestion that the culinary controversy centered around what ingredients the jerk flavour should contain.
Brian, a chef at Brixton Caribbean restaurant Fish and Tings, told HuffPost UK: “Coming from a background of being a chef, I think that if Jamie Oliver decides to highlight Caribbean food, more power to him.
“If he can come up with a recipe that tastes good, let him do it.”
On the technicalities of calling it ‘jerk’, he said: “It doesn’t really matter. If Jamaicans have a copyright on jerk, it’s a different story. It’s not like how you have to call ‘champagne’ ‘champagne’ if it’s from that part of the country.
“It’s bringing more visibility to Caribbean food.”
Alton, a chef at Links Kitchen, didn’t recognise the recipe at all when contacted by HuffPost.
“Wow,” he said. “That’s far from jerk...because it’s got nothing from jerk in it. That’s really far from jerk.”
Asked whether he thought the recipe was disrespectful, the culinary expert added: “Whatever he put out there really, even though it’s not what it meant to be, it’s still Jamie Oliver, so people gonna buy it...no one can really stop him.”
Chef Rustie Lee, who specialises in Caribbean food, told the Guardian that she had tasted Oliver’s £2.35 microwaveable rice and said it was “like Caribbean rice and beans”.
“The jerk part of it is barbecue and you can’t barbecue rice,” she added.
A description of Oliver’s rice on stockist Waitrose’s website says its creators have “mixed garlic, ginger and jalapeños to create a jerk marinade with attitude, and added this awesome spice mix to coconut-infused wholegrain rice, aubergine and kidney beans for a knockout combo”.
Butler’s intervention has been applauded, criticised and inspired some bemused observations.
Conservative MP Neil O’Brien waded into the debate, telling the shadow minister that “she’s going to go mad when she finds out about ‘Jamie’s Italy’.”
Oliver’s representatives have been approached for comment but are yet to respond.