Chef Jason Roberts

Toto, We’re Not in OZ Anymore

Chef Jason

G’day all,

America. I had arrived. I had begun my journey from Australia, also known as OZ, having become a new cast member of ABC’s daytime food talk show, The Chew.

I was excited when I arrived with all the hopes and dreams that had led me here to America. What I didn’t count on was feeling lonely, unsure and a bit, well, homesick. I was really missing my friends and loved ones back home. When they were eating dinner, I was eating breakfast. While I am in the midst of winter, they are enjoying the warm weather of summer. I had not counted on this.

As an Aquarius, we have a tendency to be nomadic. Since I first moved to Australia from New Zealand as a kid, I’ve always been on the go. I should be used to it, right? I guess it might be that as I have gotten older and a bit wiser, I have special people in my life; chefs, friends and family, so home and the people I love have secured a bigger place in my heart. My son, Hunter, is getting older and recently we have begun to bond, spending time with him in the kitchen, cooking together.

I have always said that the importance of food goes beyond just eating. A family sharing a meal is about that bonding, developing that connection to folks we care about. Throughout my career, as I have cooked for thousands of people, both here in America and back home in Australia. I have always believed in one simple concept: the family that eats together, stays together. I also believe that certain foods, smells, or tastes really are comfort food. Comfort, in that they take you back to a state of mind you’re comfortable with, or that simply remind you of home.

From the moment I arrived in Brooklyn, everyone offered advice on where to get the best food. In particular, I heard about Kem and his jerk chicken. Seems there’s this bloke, Kem, who randomly hits the streets of Brooklyn with what everyone says is the best jerk chicken not only in Brooklyn, but anywhere. He only does it so often and when he has chicken for sale, he emails folks his location. Without fail, usually within an hour of him setting up his stand, he is sold out. My first two weeks here, all I heard was, “Jason, you’ve got to eat Kem’s jerk chicken.” I heard it from so many and so often, I started dreaming about this chicken at night.

One day I got the call and was finally going to get my taste of this fabled food. Well, it’s simply the best jerk chicken I have ever had. Bar none. The whole experience of meeting Kem, watching him lovingly prepare is chicken, watching the faces of the folks who rushed up after getting the email to make sure they got theirs--he only makes about 30 per appearance--and then finally getting to taste it, made me feel well, comforted. I can honestly say that his chicken got me through my depression. Not in that "eat while you’re depressed way," don’t misunderstand, but in that comfort food way. It brought me back to that place where everything’s OK. It was a defining moment for me here in America and one that touched me in a way that made a difference. And, it was an experience I needed to write about.

Throughout my journeys here across America for The Chew, I am finding many places and people like Kem. Places and people so unique and special that it will be my pleasure to share these experiences with you here each week. I hope you enjoy the ride as much as I do and that it brings a bit of comfort in your lives, like it does mine.