On July 23, a date sacred to Rastafarians, Jamaican Chef Troy Levy held court at the Bellyful Restaurant and Bar in Brooklyn, New York. Honoring former Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I’s 127th birthday, he prepared a special Ital cuisine pop-up event for the occasion.
Dubbed ‘Taste of Ital’, the event pays homage to the unsalted, organic food Rastafarians have championed for over 50 years. It is a diet close to Chef Troy’s heart since his childhood in rural Jamaica, watching his Rastafarian uncles savor the cuisine.
“My reason for Taste Of Ital was to introduce a fine way of enjoying clean and healthy Caribbean food, while preserving the integrity of Ital food and the origin of it,” Chef Troy explained. “When I mention Ital, for those who have just a vague ‘overstanding’ of Ital food, they assume that it’s just bland and flavor-less. So the Taste Of Ital popup series not only introduce some unique flavors and ways to prepare the Rastaman food, but also educate people on my style of cooking.”
Many famous Rastafarian disciples followed Ital’s dietary tenants, including Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
At the Bellyful eatery, Chef Troy presented Ital cuisine Marley and Tosh would certainly have enjoyed. For appetizers, think smoky grilled jerk marinated mushroom skewers and scotch bonnet ackee hummus with fried breadfruit chips. For entrees, Chef Troy prepared ‘noxtail’ with rice and peas, and jackfruit arugula tri-color quinoa salad. And for dessert, diners savored some Ital sorrel cheesecake.
Exploring Ital Roots
Chef Troy, 37, has lived in the US for nearly 20 years. But he never forgot the lessons his two uncles taught him about the Rastaman’s ‘livity’ while growing up in Glengoffe, a district in St. Catherine parish.
They were members of the House of David (or Boboshanti) Rasta House, a group that sticks to a strict non-meat diet.
“Taste Of Ital commenced with the celebration of His Majesty Emperor Haile Selassie I’s 127th ‘Earthstrong’ celebration,” says Chef Troy. “Given my family ties to Rastafari, Ital food has played a huge part in my life. Ital food was considered Blackheart man food, not a healthy food to eat. Now he, she and old lady want to eat healthy like the Rastaman.”
Though he prepares food for non-vegans, Chef Troy specializes in Ital. His favorite diners include include reggae stars Queen Ifrica and Tony Rebel, comedian Bill Bellamy and Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. Chef Troy has also appeared at the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival in New York. He became the first Rastafarian Ital chef to cook at The Delegates Dining Room at the United Nations.