NORTH SALEM, N.Y. — "I never met a pepper I didn't like," says Charmaine Lord, standing in her North Salem kitchen, slicing and spicing during a filming of Dish Up!, her Jamaican food video series.
Playing the real-life role of Jamaican cooking guru is a natural for Lord, who grew up on the island and went on to study theater at New York's Circle-in-the-Square. Her greatest theatrical challenge was performing as Lady in Blue in "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide," which "required a lot of raw emotion."
During her stage career she was introduced to Hoagy Carmichael, Jr., who eventually became her husband. The couple entertains frequently in their North Salem home. "No matter how I plan to serve my guests, they always seem to end up in the kitchen," says Lord, whose approach is cordial and informal.
In fact, Dish Up! originated when a dinner guest commented: "You're so good at this, you ought to make a business out of it." Lord takes a "get-to-the-point approach," she explains. None of the videos lasts more than three or four minutes.
Jamaican cuisine is characterized by bold flavors and hearty colors, says Lord, but she always adds her own special touch. She might plop a dollop of crème fraîche on her Jamaican pumpkin soup (see video here), for example, or scatter mango and pineapple atop her Jamaican French Toast. Her Turkey Chili is a simple but full-flavored dish to prepare for guests during the holiday season.
Lord’s Jamaican childhood was idyllic, she says. "I could do what kids are supposed to do — run around in the yard, get dirty, climb mango trees. We weren't distracted by gizmos. And the food was strictly farm-to-table."
Tips for the home cook? "Preparation-preparation-preparation," she advises. Plan ahead and do as much as you can ahead of time. Cook with lots of spices, experiment, and balance out the flavors. "Remember that heat is not your best friend.”
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