It's almost impossible to feign indifference to Chef Oji Jaja. Immaculately attired in full black, there was no disputing the culinary prowess of Jaja after he had “thrown down” course after course of fare so impressive that even the most discerning of our Food Awards judges felt compelled to raise a toast to excellence.
Growing up in Kingston Jamaica, Jaja was exposed to the kitchen from the early age of six, as he used to “hang out” in the kitchen while his father cooked family dinner on a Saturday. By the age of 12, he was able to cook most, if not all, of his family's dinner menus. While in high school, Chef Jaja found that food and nutrition was one of the subjects in which he excelled. After completing high school, he decided to enrol in the culinary programme offered by HEART Trust/NTA. On completion of this course, he attended the prestigious Johnson and Wales University based in Florida, USA. He was a straight 'A' student at both institutions, but it was at Johnson and Wales that his passion for the culinary arts was awakened.
On his return to Jamaica, Chef Jaja worked at The Ritz-Carlton Golf and Spa Resort, Rose Hall, as a sous-chef, later moving to The Ritz-Carlton, Naples, and Key Biscayne, Florida, where he further honed his skills, picking up valuable lessons; like being creative with what is available — a lesson that has remained with him. Chef Jaja, who also worked at Royal Plantation (now Sandals Royal Plantation), currently commutes between Washington, DC, and Jamaica, working with restaurants such as Eatonville and 876 Café (Washington, DC), while maintaining his catering business Ashebre. Jaja enjoys working at these restaurants, as he believes it is important that there be a synergy between restaurant owners and the chefs who create the various menus.
As one of his projects, Chef Jaja has authored a book titled Modern Caribbean Cuisine by Ashebre: A Delectable Treat For The Discerning Palate.
The word Ashebre is West African in origin and means “the artist”.
Chef Jaja has plans to revolutionise the way Caribbean people see food. He believes that Caribbean, and in particular Jamaican, cuisine has the potential to be developed and truly make its mark internationally.