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Shawn Fearon is the owner and head chef of Kingston Kitchen, the six month old Jamaican restaurant in Okemos. Fearon has worked in kitchens from Michigan to Florida. Taking that former experience and combining it with inspiration and culinary knowledge from home and professional training, Fearon is bringing his twist on his native cuisine to greater Lansing.
How did you find your way to Michigan from Jamaica?
I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and came to the United States for a better opportunity. I enrolled in the temporary work program and was placed on Mackinac Island, Michigan. I ended up returning to Mackinac Island for several seasons, until I eventually decided to stay the winters as the executive chef of one of the few restaurants that stay open yearround.
You were trained in the culinary arts, correct? Where did you study?
I trained in the culinary arts at the HEART College of Hospitality Services in Runaway Bay, Jamaica.
How did you come to open your own restaurant? What inspired that career move?
My dream of opening my own restaurant was years in the making. As a chef, I’ve always wanted to have my own kitchen with a menu with dishes from my culture. I have had some version of Kingston Kitchen’s menu in the works before I even had a city or building in mind. This dream stems from my love of food and hospitality, not as a calculated career or business decision.
As a chef and a restaurant owner, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
Do you write the menu?
My restaurant is six months old. Currently, my day-to-day is anything and everything. I am on the line for both lunch and dinner service, directing the front of house staff, as well as the less exciting business things like payroll. I wrote our regular menu and continue to test new recipes for seasonal menus and weekly specials. Creating dishes that are unexpected and well-loved are what I love doing most.
I’m assuming your childhood in Jamaica played a big part in inspiring the food on the menu, but it also seems to have a bit of western influence as well, with burgers, meat-centric entrees and pasta dishes. Is the menu a mix of both Jamaican and American influences or is it strictly classic Jamaican food?
I wanted Kingston Kitchen to be a place welcoming to folks with a range of comfort levels with spice and other traditional Jamaican flavors. More than anything else, I wanted people to expect dishes that are made from scratch with fresh ingredients and a vibrant flavor profile. If I wouldn’t eat it or make it for my family, it is not being served at my restaurant. My menu has traditional Jamaican dishes that I grew up on: oxtail, jerk chicken, curry goat and escovitch fish. It also has some dishes more familiar to Americans with a Jamaican influence, like Jerk Chicken fettuccine Alfredo and Coconut Shrimp with mango pineapple marmalade. People can enjoy familiar dishes that are enjoyably different from most American menus.
How often, if at all, does your menu change?
Because we just celebrated Kingston Kitchen’s half birthday, our regular menu has not changed yet. With warmer weather just around the corner, we are introducing a separate spring and summer menu available for a limited time with dishes like Lobster Hot Dogs, Zesty Guava & Pineapple Chicken, and Jamaica’s national dish, Ackee & Saltfish. We will debut this menu in April.
Your upbringing in Jamaica seemed to have a big effect on your growth as a chef. Were you the cook of your family?
Cooking for others and gathering around a great meal is an integral part of Jamaica’s culture. Our meals last hours with several rounds of dishes and conversation with friends and family. When food was not readily available, I learned to love and appreciate the times when we did have it. When my mother was cooking oxtail, I knew things were all right.
My mom taught me to cook with what we had and make things last without waste. Food is sacred. I haven’t lost that appreciation for serving others through creating and preparing dishes with care.
How have Kingston Kitchen’s first six months gone?
We celebrated our half birthday March 5. These last six months have been the most rewarding of my career. The community’s reception has been astounding and heartwarming. I have met so many in the Lansing area and look forward to the years to come.
Can I ask about your logo? What inspired the bird? Is that also a reference to Jamaica?
My logo is of Jamaica’s national bird, the Doctor Bird, a beautiful hummingbird that can only be found on the island.
Its iridescent feathers are one of a kind.
Why did you want to open it in Okemos?
Opening in Okemos was more luck that anything else. Kingston Kitchen needed its home to be in a community that enjoys international cuisines and is adventurous in its dining choices. Many people of Okemos and the Greater Lansing area enjoy diverse food choices. I also wanted an open kitchen set up so visiting Kingston Kitchen would feel as welcoming as stepping into my home. The open kitchen layout at our location on Central Park Drive sealed the deal for Kingston Kitchen to open in Okemos.
As a chef and a restaurant owner, I can imagine life is quite busy. How do you balance work and life?
There is no balance, only trade-offs.
Right now, Kingston Kitchen demands to be a priority but things change over time.
As a chef, where do you eat out when you want to eat out?
I’m not eating out right now, but when things settle down, I look forward to trying some of the great places in the Lansing area.
What is your favorite dish on the menu currently?
Oxtail. All day, every day.