LONDON — Jamie Oliver, the popular British chef and global food entrepreneur, is caught in a very British tussle over “cultural appropriation.”
His international conglomerate recently released a microwaveable meal called “Punchy Jerk Rice.”
A member of Parliament and others of Jamaican origin said this is a bad thing.
As the BBC reported Monday, “The decision to label the microwaveable rice ‘jerk’ has been criticized, because the product doesn’t contain many of the ingredients traditionally used in a Jamaican jerk marinade.”
The annoyed Parliament member, Dawn Butler of the Labour Party, threw the first stone on Twitter: “I’m just wondering do you know what Jamaican jerk actually is?” she asked the celebrity chef, who is a rich white fellow.
Butler said that “jerk” is “not just a word you put before stuff to sell products,” and she declared the purported Oliverian jerk a cultural theft.
“This appropriation from Jamaica needs to stop,” Butler said.
Others wondered aloud on Twitter: Was this a neo-colonial rip-off or a “culinary homage” to Jamaica?
In the way that Domino’s pizza, for example, might honor Naples?
On Tuesday, Oliver responded to the jerk row, saying it was intended as a tip of the hat.
“When I named the rice my intention was only to show where my inspiration came from," Oliver said in a statement.
“I’ve worked with flavours and spices from all over the world my whole career, learning and drawing inspiration from different countries and cultures to give a fresh twist to the food we eat every day,” the chef said.
Another quibble with Oliver is over ingredients. It seems his recipe includes garlic, ginger and jalapeños “to create a jerk marinade with attitude.”
Well, jerk doesn’t deploy jalapeños. That’s Tex-Mex (which, actually, is a cultural appropriation of Mexican cuisine, but that’s another blog post).
Classic jerk sauce uses Scotch bonnet pepper. Plus, it’s usually slathered on grilled chicken, fish, ribs — not rice and beans.
On ITV’s chat show “Good Morning Britain,” chef and entrepreneur Levi Roots, who knows his jerk, revealed that he had taught Oliver how to make “the real deal” jerk.
Roots said of Oliver’s microwaveable jerk, “I do think it was a mistake by Jamie — either by him or by his team.”
“Maybe he wasn’t actually involved in this,” said Roots, who sells his own mass-market Jerk Coat ’n Cook Sauce in British supermarkets.
The British TV chef Rustie Lee, who was born in Jamaica, told the Guardian newspaper that there’s “no such thing in the Caribbean as jerk rice.”
The jerk row was also covered by the Telegraph, the BBC, the Standard, the Daily Mail . . . So it must be August.
Meanwhile, the Internet had a little fun.
Neil O’Brien, a Conservative member of Parliament, tweeted, “If Jamie Oliver isn’t allowed to make Jerk chicken because it’s cultural ‘appropriation’ she’s [Dawn Butler is] going to go mad when she finds out about ‘Jamie’s Italy.’ ”