Food & Drink

The Flavor Of Peppatree Is A Scotch Bonnet Infused Tribute To Jamaica

Nathan Haddad is in a state of reemergence. The sixth generation Jamaican (by way of Lebanon, Africa and Scotland) has spent the past decade in culinary hibernation, mindfully crafting a repertoire of locally grown, authentic Jamaican seasonings reminiscent of the spirit of his people, and full of national pride. Whether it is Mango Barbecue, All Tings Spice, Ole Time Jerk, Scotch Bonnet Peppa, or any of a variety of one-stop-shop Jamaican flavorings for the do-it-yourself chef, Peppatree embodies the very essence of its northern Caribbean homeland.

With flavors so rich that they “cut down to the bone,” Peppatree is hardly just another ‘Jamaican food’ gimmick— the innovator’s soulfulness and passion lie not far behind. That force of nature… the energy imbued in these seasonings is quite simply— Nathan Haddad.

Not surprisingly, our interview and flavor sampling is just as unique.

We begin our adventure in Nathan’s off-road truck and head towards what he has promised will be the ultimate farm to table lunch— seasoned, of course, with the authentic Jamaican flavors of Peppatree. Our first stop is Maxine and Son’s Fish Enterprise in Rae Town Fishing Village in Kingston where fish vendor, “Ratty” hooks us up with four “just caught” hog snapper fish. We stop to pick up some fresh-from-the-farm okras, onions, and of course, “Scotchy”— Jamaica’s famous Scotch Bonnet peppers.

Nathan believes that the flavor of Jamaican Scotch Bonnet is special and unique because of the natural symphony of Jamaican soil, sunshine, and sea. He grew up in the countryside, surrounded by farmlands and has cultivated a sensitive palate that can pick up subtleties across flavor profiles. “Full of heat, yet with immense flavor; fruity notes mingled with tolerable heat,” he says of Scotchy.

“There are others making pepper sauce and seasoning products but there’s only one Jamaican Scotch Bonnet pepper,” he continues. “Whereas many peppers need the inclusion of other ingredients to make them shine, Scotchy shines all on its own. Grown anywhere else, it simply is not the same; ask any local or diasporic Jamaican, or anyone for that matter who has tasted locally grown and they will without hesitation concur. Yes, people will continue to make ‘Jamaican products’ outside of Jamaica, but it simply is not the same product, not the same people, not the same land, not our sunshine, not the same ‘vibe’, not our culture.”

Nathan believes that global mimicry of Jamaican culinary products is a real threat to ‘brand Jamaica’ and is thus highly discerning in his use of local inputs and the way he does business, both locally and internationally. He has spent the past few years building up an intellectual property repository that spans more than 30 countries and has gone to great lengths to make the right locally based connections so that he can grow his brand while sustaining the local community.

“I believe in the greater good of developing and building locally grown, locally produced ecosystems, rather than doing things the standard ‘easy’ way, that often excludes local farmers, aggro-processors and talent,” he explains. “All Jamaicans and anyone ever exposed to the culture first-hand knows, you cannot have Jamaican Jerk seasoning or any authentic Jamaican food without Jamaican soil, it is as simple as that.”

Nathan believes in the power of village foods… the flavors, smells, tastes, sounds and culture… the cultural practice of bringing people together, sharing experiences and the unique flavor of authentic ingredients.

“Pimento, ginger, scallion, and anything else that grows in Jamaica has historically been heralded as among the best in the world. Our techniques, which date back to our indigenous Taino people, who utilized wood endemic to and produced from our soils— pimento, sweet wood, and others just to name a few – these individually and combined have given us unmistakable flavor which only can be found here in Jamaica.”

We pause to load up the truck with our fresh, locally sourced food and set off to Bob Marley Beach in Bull Bay where we will spend the rest of the day, and most importantly— eat.

We make our way down the beach, passing fisherfolk weaving nets, coconut vendors waiting for a sale and children happily running up and down in the sand. Nathan stops at Ms. Gladys’ famous cook shop, well known for fish dishes made to order by the pound. The two are close and exchange warm greetings.

Like an expectant grandmother, Ms. Gladys retrieves the overflowing crocus bag from Nathan’s arms, withdrawing the catch which she washes with lime juice and rubs down with her own assortment of Peppatree seasonings, dropping it into a bubbling skillet with a sizzle and a pop. Scallion, thyme, okra, carrot, and scotch bonnet soon join the medley, alongside bammy (cassava bread) and festival (fried dumplings).

Lunch is served.

We transport two hefty plates to the black sand carpet of our very own palm and bamboo hut. The echo of reggae music joins the beat of waves breaking on the shore before us and we consume our food in between moments of light conversation followed by silent and conscious meditation.

Nathan is a nature lover, a career creative (designer, photographer, creative director), a practitioner of Chinese Internal Arts (Tai Chi, Bagua, Xingyi) and Traditional Chinese Medicine— each of which have played a fundamental role in the design of Peppatree and in this meal that we share in the warm afternoon sun. As we eat, my host describes why this food— the way that the ingredients were sourced, the person who cooked it and the setting on which we are experiencing this blissful meal it is so vital to the quality of the nourishment that we are putting into our bodies.

“Peppatree is dedicated to my father, a patient and wise man who gave of himself to family, society, and his village as a doctor, confidant, and rock for more persons than I can count,” says Nathan in fond memory of his family’s patriarch who died just over a decade ago. “Like him, I am driven by far more than money or the societal ideas of success; I am driven by life and being a positive member within it– the people I work with and the roots of this food, the ingredients. This very setting, this cuisine, never to be duplicated again; one of Mother Nature’s perfect creations where all the elements are just right, right here, nowhere else.”

Satisfied and happy after a fulfilling lunch, we watch the sun quietly go down to the familiar beat of 90’s dancehall music and take in the last few moments of a soulfully blissful day.

Nathan tells me of all the cultures and journeys that Jamaica represents and reinforces that there can be no success unless it is paid back to the earth, the people and to future generations. He believes that when utilizing a country’s cultural and natural capital for monetary gains, it is important to ensure that real opportunities and benefit are being created for the people and the environment within that country and for the long-term. He carries a deep love for Jamaica and respect for the land, having grown up in the countryside, among open fields and farmlands, growing his own food.

“Everything that I’m playing with already exists; all of the elements of Peppatree are already here— they are Jamaica,” he says as the tide quietly rolls in. “Peppatree is the result of all these things coming together, curated and fashioned in a structure that considers others.”

I look around me in acknowledgement of a statement that feels so completely fitting to the moment. The black sand beneath my feet… the yellow Scotchy on my plate… my well-nourished being… the rich greens and bluest blues of this beautiful, vibrant day… It doesn’t get more Jamaican… or more sustainable… than this.

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