"A Customer Asked, 'Where’s Your Jerk Chicken?' So I Said, 'I’ll Make You Some!'" Meet Lebanon Farmer's Market Vendor Balvin Bowen.
If you're a regular at the Lebanon Farmer's Market on Thursdays, you know it can get crowded sometimes along the path that starts near the southwest corner. One big reason? The Caribbean Cuisine stall -- Jamaican and Haitian -- helmed by Balvin Bowen and Carline Roberge. A word of advice if you haven't tried it yet: go hungry.
Balvin, who's the Jamaican half of the couple, began cooking when he was 15 and still growing up in Jamaica. He was in school, but felt like he needed to build his skills -- so he headed over to the Sandals resort and found work in the kitchen. He came to the US when he was 22, and has been working as a cook at Simon Pierce in Quechee since 2000.
The food stall grew out of Carline's plunge into selling marinades and spices at the market. "One day a customer asked, 'Where’s your jerk chicken and jerk pork?'" recalls Balvin. "So I said, 'I’ll make you some!' I wasn’t sure how people would like spice, because people in the Northeast don’t like spicing. But the first day I sold out in 10 minutes."
If you've eaten it, you know why. The centerpiece of the meal is chicken or pork with jerk seasoning. There are probably as many versions of this as there are Jamaican cooks, but Balvin and Carline's uses onions, garlic, hot peppers -- usually habanero, but scotch bonnet if Balvin can get them -- scallions and some spices Balvin doesn't talk about. The meat marinates for a long time, then gets cooked over a charcoal grill. If you get the chicken, you'll find yourself gnawing the bones bare.
In addition to the meat, you'll get beans and rice, fried plantains, and for a bit extra a generous and dismayingly addictive chunk of coconut brittle. Which really: Just try it.