All images courtesy of Andre Fowles and Miss Lily's. Lead photo by Michael Condran
This article is part of MERRY JANE's Jamaica Week. For more on this special series of articles and videos, visit our Editor's Letter here.
At just 28, Chef Andre Fowles is shockingly accomplished. Not only did he take home the championship title from ultimate foodie challenge show Chopped (twice), he’s darted around test kitchens from Bon Appétit to Food & Wine. The Jamaica native also spent time studying under Chef Martin Maginley in his home country before relocating to New York City — where Fowles currently holds down the position of Chef de Cuisine at the vibrant Caribbean joint Miss Lily’s (that Jerk Pork Belly is a force to be reckoned with). Fowles is one well-rounded dude, to say the least.
Fowles speaks fondly of his grandmother, who raised him from age 11 and helped instill in him a love for culinary efforts, as well as cannabis. This, along with growing up in Jamaica’s relaxed atmosphere, helped him understand marijuana as medicinal and normalized — which makes all the sense in the world. In conversation with MERRY JANE, Fowles waxes on his background in food, the tea his grandmother sipped, and how the vibes at Miss Lily’s shift when the sun sets. Oh, and he also shares a THC-spiked recipe of the restaurant’s infamous Dark & Stormy Cannabis Rum Cake; you’re going to be a major hit at the next potluck, and you’ll have Fowles to thank… and his grandma, too.
Dark & Stormy Cannabis Rum Cake
1 cup sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup cannabis-infused vegetable oil
2.5 cup flour (all purpose)
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground pimento
1 cup water
½ cup dark rum
4 whole eggs
4 teaspoons lime zest
2 teaspoon baking soda
8 ounces dark chocolate (65% or higher)
Preheat oven to 350 and butter cake molds. Mix sugar, molasses, and vegetable oil in a large bowl.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, ginger, cinnamon, and pimento. Combine both bowls of mixture and mix well with an electric mixer.
Add water, rum, eggs, lime zest, and baking soda. Mix well.
Gently fold in chopped chocolate (optional to sprinkle finely ground cannabis in, too).
Pour batter into cake pan and bake until batter is set. (You can test this by inserting a toothpick towards the center of the cake. If it comes out clean — with no remnants of undercooked batter on it — it’s ready.)
Chef Andre Fowles, photo by Martyn Thompson
MERRY JANE: Tell us a little about your culinary background, primarily how you started working with Jamaican cuisine and what you do at Miss Lily's.
Andre Fowles: I was born and raised in Central Kingston, Jamaica, where I would often cook sweet potato pudding and other local Jamaican specialities with my grandmother, sparking my passion for the culinary arts. When I was 17 years old, I began cooking professionally in various restaurants and hotels in Jamaica. I also graduated from Jamaica’s renowned Runaway Bay HEART Academy [Hotel and Training Institute] and The Culinary Institute of America.
My first experience in fine dining was at Mac’s Chop House, where I worked with renowned Chef Mario Machado for two years. After that, I served as sous chef at Montego Bay’s five-star resort Round Hill Hotel and Villas, working under award-winning Executive Chef Martin Maginley where I mastered the art of fine-dining and contemporary Caribbean cuisine.
After four years at Round Hill, I made the move to New York, landing at one of the city's most popular restaurants, Miss Lily’s — a tropical Caribbean oasis located in the heart of downtown Manhattan.As the Chef de Cuisine at Miss Lily’s, I oversee both of its locations in Soho and the East Village, bringing a modern and innovative approach to Caribbean cuisine by introducing authentic Jamaican flavors and techniques to the Miss Lily’s kitchen.
This is amazing. Please tell me more.
I was the first Jamaican-born and youngest chef to compete and win Food Network's show Chopped, winning twice and then [scoring] runner-up in the Grand Championship tournament. Additionally, I've spent time in test kitchens at Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and The Daily Meal. I was also recently named Chef of the Year and Culinary Ambassador by the Jamaica Observer.
At Miss Lily’s, how does the restaurant's vibe and approach to food change between the brunch and the late-night crowds?
When it comes to Miss Lily's brunch menu and guests, it's a much more mellow crowd. Time moves slower on the weekends, and everyone is here to enjoy the good food and vibes. We try to play more reggae to bring that authentic Caribbean feel to the experience. People walking by on the street see this bright, colorful restaurant with happy music and want to see what's going on inside.
The transition to late night means a change of the crowd and music. We play more high-tempo, upbeat dancehall music to set the mood. The menu is more extensive with classic Jamaican dishes like whole fried fish and oxtail. We always have a steady crew of regular guests who love the Miss Lily's vibe.
In your opinion, what's the relationship between Jamaican cuisine and cannabis culture? It's gotta be more than Bob Marley, right?
Most definitely. It is a lot more than Bob Marley. The history and the culture of cannabis actually goes back to slavery in colonial Jamaica. There was a group of rebellious Jamaicans during that time called the Maroons — known to be the island's strongest, most courageous people — who escaped captivity from the British and took refuge in the mountainous regions. There, they discovered new herbs and spices, which is how jerk seasoning was developed. [They] also found wild cannabis. The cannabis culture and mellow vibes famous to Jamaica really developed then, way before Bob Marley.
What's your personal relationship with cannabis like?
I grew up with my grandmother, who was an avid cannabis smoker. She is one of the kindest people you will ever meet and smoked every single day, as long as I've known her. Smoking cannabis gives you a calm state of mind when used in the right proportion, not over-smoking it. In Jamaica, we make low-potent ganja tea from the cannabis leaves and stems that is known to purify the body and provide mental clarity. Jamaicans have used cannabis for centuries, but only recently have people started cooking with it.
Tell us a little about the dish you're sharing with us today. How did you develop it? Any pairing suggestions?
At Miss Lily's, we have a mouth-watering Dark & Stormy Rum Cake served with ginger ice cream, rum macerated raisins, and lime. Today I'm putting a little cannabis-twist on the dessert :)
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