But White isn’t finished. Before you know it, he’s plowing through rock lobster with basil, tomatoes, and olive oil; and a fried snapper with ginger in an orange reduction—a tribute to a dish we’d eaten at Cloggy’s the day before, with seasonings borrowed from a Caribbean cookbook he picked up at a spice factory on the way.
On the third day, I find myself standing over a garbage can popping out fish eyes with a pair of dull scissors. White has decided he wants to try his own version of fish tea, using more than a dozen of the reef fish he’d picked up that morning. I can’t help but notice the way he’s sliding all over the wet floor, as if there were actually a dining room out there filled with hungry customers. He is an incredibly physical cook, even eschewing utensils to run his fingers through pans of hot oil to check the temperature. The fish tea gets a swipe every ten minutes. And a lick “so I can see how the flavors are developing. You need to search out every ingredient you’ve put in,” he says. “If you can’t taste them, you need to add more.”
In the course of four hours, White has created not only a new, velvety version of fish tea, but four other dishes as well: crab salad in avocado; pepper shrimp on sugarcane with seared, caramelized mango; squirrelfish with garlic salt; and red mullet with scallions and ginger.
“From the time I walk out of the kitchen with one dish,” he says, lighting up yet another Marlboro, “my mind is on the next one. I like the spontaneity. Everything we buy, we use.”
“It’s quite magical being dumped in a place where you don’t know anything about the food culture,” he tells me later. “Because I’m dyslexic, I don’t absorb information through reading the way others do. I get it visually or by listening. Going into the markets, out to the fisherman’s beach, to Cloggy’s—that’s my way of understanding.”
So is White returning to the kitchen for good?
“I enjoyed cooking in Jamaica,” he says. “I loved the produce, but now I’m back to slicing cakes and doing deals. It was a short-term fling.” And fun while it lasted.