When you ask most chefs why they cook, the answer doesn’t include spirituality. But Jamain Brigitha isn’t most chefs. “I’m called to cook,” she explains, “I feel that I have to feed people. I can get into a space where it’s not me cooking; it’s something coming from above.”
Jamain, originally born on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao, grew up in the Netherlands from age seven and has been cooking since she was 11 years old. “Many people feel that cooking is a task, but for me it’s art,” she says. “I make my food with love, and I think that’s what makes it special. People can sense that when they come to the soup bar.”
That soup bar, The Caribbean Housewife, sits on a side street in Vesterbro. Jamain shares the location with gelateria Siciliansk Is. They trade using the space seasonally; gelato in the spring and summer, and hearty Caribbean and Latin inspired food in the autumn and winter. The Caribbean Housewife focuses on traditional recipes from the West Indies and South America, including local flavors from Cuba, Surinam, and Jamaica.
“To me, the name the Caribbean Housewife represents someone who is independent, someone who is freed from slavery, and who uses her skills of her own free will to nourish and heal her people. That’s what I aim to do with my food,” Jamain tells me. The word “housewife,” she says, has a particular meaning when tied into the full title “The Caribbean Housewife.” Jamain explains, “to me, [being] the present-day housewife is an art form. It is someone who takes care of her family, friends, and community through healthy food and loving care. Housewives, and housemen for that matter, are very much needed in our current society, where people are always in a hurry.”
Opened in 2016, The Caribbean Housewife has grown to be a business that’s both a restaurant and a catering service during the seasons when she’s not in the storefront. She also occasionally runs workshops and courses. In addition to serving food, the space is always used to showcase international contemporary female artists. “I have a background in art and curation,” Jamain says, “and that’s something that ties into everything I do.” She came to Copenhagen in 2012 to research for her art in public spaces project, and the rest is history. “I just ended up staying!” she laughs.
Thank goodness she did, because otherwise where would Copenhageners get their soup? “Danes often think of soup as something to eat when you’re sick, and not really any other time. But the soups I make are satisfying; it’s something that’s a full meal at any time,” she says.
Jamain doesn’t only make soup, of course, but that’s the star of the show. Other dishes include her beloved homemade lasagna (“it sells out in a minute!” she says) and chilli sin carne, as well as lighter bites like empanadas and quinoa salad. The menu changes weekly, and it’s possible to sit in or order to take away. As much as possible, Jamain cooks with organic produce, and much of what she makes is vegetarian or vegan. There are gluten free and lactose free options. “I think everyone should be able to eat something delicious, no matter what their restrictions may be,” she says, “plus it’s more environmentally-friendly.” She never uses soy products, and all her takeaway containers are biodegradable.
With dishes that aren’t well-known in Denmark, are there any ingredients that are hard to find? “Mangoes!” Jamain exclaims. “It is practically impossible to find really good mangoes in Denmark. But other than that, not really! Denmark has become really good at importing food and ingredients, as well as having really great local products, so I can usually find what I need.”
As autumn closes in and the days get colder, nothing sounds more enticing than a steaming bowl of soup – perhaps a cassava corn chowder, or a Suinamese peanut soup with plantain. It might not be the same as living in the Caribbean, but it sure will transport you there for a second. “With my soups, I can bring the sun,” Jamain smiles.
The Caribbean Housewife reopens on 5th October. Enjoy a bowl of soup and keep warm!