Robert McGrath’s Jamaican Feast
It’s the beginning of a Tex-Jamaican food adventure. Robert McGrath, executive chef of Houston’s Four Seasons Hotel, and I are sitting in Caribbean Cuisine, a bare-bones Bellaire lunch-room filled with a handful of tables and the sound of an oversized calypso beat. Mock pickle barrels with stools make up the seating in a side room that doubles as a West Indian grocery. Noting a countertop TV, McGrath says, “I don’t know how they do it, but they actually have TV reception like they do in Jamaica.”
McGrath was born in Kentucky but grew up in Jamaica, where he first learned to cook. An alumnus of Cordon Bleu in Paris, he returned to the United States (“I lived in the Keys for a while – that was my transition”) and ran kitchens in New York, at the Disneyland Hotel, and at Austin’s Four Seasons. For the past year he has worked at the Houston hotel.
Although he is best known for his accomplished New Southwestern cuisine, McGrath has never severed his island roots. At the Four Seasons he has created light spring and summer menus in which island briskness meets Texas staple in dishes such as skillet-seared mahimahi on Pecos melon, and lobster-and-mango salad with poblano peppers. Looking for inspiration from an authentically earthy Jamaican lunch, McGrath is planning a meal incorporating island tradition and his own inventive touches. The result illustrates the perfect adaptability of Caribbean cooking to this neck of the woods.
“Texans should find Caribbean food pleasantly familiar, because ideally it’s cooked outside on the grill, it can be spicy, and a successful meal depends on fresh foods,” McGrath says. “The two cuisines are compatible because it’s the same philosophy – food that goes very quickly from field to kitchen to table.”
Texas, in fact, with its own tradition of hybridized