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Now reading The Trip That Changed My Life: Jennifer Carroll

The Trip That Changed My Life: Jennifer Carroll

How a trip to the Caribbean changed my attitude towards cooking.

Jenn

Back in 1894, Tommy Dewar travelled around the globe to introduce the world to DEWAR’S, chronicling his trip along the way. To channel the brand’s history, we’re teaming up with DEWAR’S to bring you GREAT SCOTCH!, where Lucky Peachers Brette and Ryan travel around the country to gather recipes and recommendations from chefs and bartenders who are committed to their craft. Here, chef Jennifer Carroll of Requin in Fairfax, VA tells us about a trip she took that changed her approach to food and cooking.

My fiancé, Billy, and I went to St. Thomas and St. Barts last year, and I went snorkeling and spearfishing for the first time. It was the coolest thing—I was going in and finding huge Caribbean lobsters and slipper lobsters. It was an amazing experience, diving down, getting the lobster, spearing it, and bringing it up—and doing it all myself. I’d been fishing before, but this was such a new experience.

Afterwards, we went back to the house we were staying in, cooked dinner for our host, and had a big party. We had conchs and both types of lobsters, and we did so many different things with them: ceviche, sauce from the shells, you name it. It was all about having fun, all about family; it meant so much more than the food itself. It was about togetherness. It really influences the way I cook now, this act of taking ourselves as chefs out of the equation, and putting memory and experience and sharing those things first. That’s what I took out of that day—it wasn’t just, Hey, I’m cooking lobster. It was doing everything and sharing it, and then remembering it.

See, I didn’t grow up eating fish; if we had any fish at all, it would’ve been well-done fish sticks dipped in ketchup. That was my experience with seafood growing up. When I started cooking, the concept of these wonderful, fresh ingredients was totally new. Properly cooked fish actually tastes good—simple realizations like that changed my whole perspective of what I thought I knew growing up. That said, and it may just be nostalgia, I still love my Del Monte canned peas. I go home and we still have Hungry Jack mashed potatoes. My dad hates the potatoes I make here. They’re Robuchon-style potatoes, with so much butter and so much cream—and he thinks they’re the most disgusting thing ever. They’re not for him. And that’s why I laugh when people bring their family and they say, “I’m sorry, I’m embarrassed but my dad wants his steak well done.” And I think, Who cares? My dad eats it well done too! We’re here to make people happy and to cook how they want their food. Not how we want them to eat.

We have one family who comes in every Saturday for brunch. They get their peanut butter-banana-chocolate chip french toast with everything on the side: each ingredient is in its own little bowl, because that’s the way they like it. And I don’t really care. They come in and say hello, and it’s so nice to see them every week. I want them to come back. And so they can put it together however they want.

Ten to fifteen years ago, I would have been like, You have to eat it my way or you’re eating it wrong. You don’t understand my vision, my food. And yes, there is some food out there that is like that, that is meant to be that way. But that’s just not the way I cook anymore. It’s not the experience I want to give. I don’t want people to be intimidated by the food; I want people to relax and have fun, and to be together.