It’s midafternoon in Jamaica and the weather witching hour is upon us as the once spotless sky shifts dramatically to stormy weather. I am driving up a dirt road that precariously wraps itself around Free Hill; it is the type of steep drive that seems to climb up forever past lush vegetation, colorful clapboard houses and barefoot locals languidly sitting on ledges by the side of the road.
I am headed to an organic farm founded by local, Chris Binns and his wife, Lisa, whose love of farm-to-table cuisine and healthy living has earned them a stellar reputation in the community. Stush in the Bush they call it–the “stush” a Jamaican word for elegant bordering on pretentious stands in stark contrast to the “bush”–slang for rustic and low-key--perfectly summing up the couple behind the small tasting room at Zionites Farm. Chris (the Bush) is a Jamaican native and farmer who grew up on Free Hill; Lisa (the Stush) is a New York transplant who brings a certain panache and business savvy to what was once just another farm on the island.
Stush in the Bush is at the forefront of a food movement in Jamaica—the reinvention of the home cooked meal and the growth of sustainable and ethical farming. In a country saturated with tourism and poor replications of foreign cuisine, this new movement brings food back to basics and celebrates the island’s natural bounty. Stush in the Bush—an operation backed and funded by the European Union—is a prime example of Jamaica’s culinary heritage with meals made entirely from local ingredients.
Standing tall in khakis and a button down shirt, with the classic Rastafarian dreadlocks neatly pulled back, Chris and his two Rhodesian ridgeback dogs lead me around the property. As we walk, it seems every plant, flower and tree we pass serves both a medicinal and culinary purpose. Motion sickness? Chris reaches for ginger. Bug bites? Chris tears off a “Leaf of Life” for me to rub on my leg. Stress? Chris hands me a fragrant blade of lemongrass often used in both cooking and teas. We make our way back to Chris and Lisa’s home—a rustic cabin that is so harmonious with its surroundings it looks as though it has sprung up right out of the earth. Every detail of their home mirrors back the natural Surroundings—from their bed made of large chunks of cedar trees to decorative wooden bowls filled with passion fruits.
Stush in the Bush is this perfect blend of rustic and sophistication (or Rastafarian and chicas the owners. describe it). The tasting room is surrounded by tropical landscape yet has wine glasses flown in from New York. The plates are handmade by a local artisan and placed alongside tinted blue jays with rosemary herbs thoughtfully pouring out of them.
I am sitting in the Stush in the Bush outdoor tasting room with unbeatable views of the surrounding hills and Caribbean Sea beyond. Lisa serves up a chilled avocado soup with spicy corn muffins, fire grilled pizza with fresh pineapple and a homemade tomato sauce. Every plate served is simply made basic ingredients derived from the land no chemicals, no preservatives. The dressings, sauces and jams have no more than three or four fruits or herbs in them, a welcome change from the long list of hard to- pronounce ingredients usually seen on food labels back home.
By the time Lisa serves the final dish—a homemade chocolate cake with her signature passionfruit butter—I am deliriously happy and wonderfully full. The afternoon has melted into evening and the farm is lit up with strings of white lights casting a warm glow over the tasting room and their home.
Jamaica’s reinvention of the home cooked meal is a welcome experience as tourism on the island shifts from standard resort buffets to down-to-earth dining amongst local islanders. I think back on some of the other meals I’ve had since arriving on the island—elaborate sushi rolls, complicated Italian recreations, all of them misfires, all of them paling in comparison to the fresh food of the island, all of them having too much “stush” and not quite enough “bush.”