A few days ago, I signed up for a cooking class at  The Landings in St Lucia.

The name of the class might turn some people off — Cooking with Jerks — but it was anything but, helmed by Chef Patricia Pascal in the open-air restaurant, surrounded by bowls of prepped vegetables, meats, and most importantly, spices.

After all, “Cooking with Jerks” applies to the art of jerk cooking, not to your fellow students… 😉

We donned aprons and got to work creating our jerk mixture, grabbing stainless steel bowls where we could mix and match everything from fresh thyme and lemongrass to garlic, lime and hot pepper sauce. It reminded me of childhood when I played around with a chemistry set to see which combinations were inert and which would explode.

Chef Pat encouraged us to be as reckless as we wanted. For me, there is never enough garlic, so I pretty much emptied out the bowl.

We took our concoctions and slathered it on mahi mahi, chicken, and a shrimp lollipop, where two shrimp are tightly nestled against each other and skewered so as to resemble a sucker.

While the meat and seafood cooked and Chef Pat grilled some vegetables to accompany the whole thing, we prepared chutney. Who would think that making your own chutney would be so ridiculously easy?

Basically, chutney is a close cousin of jam, but combines sweet, sour, and heat/spice to distinguish it. Here’s the recipe:

In a large saucepan, combine 1/2 cup each of vinegar, water and sugar. Throw 10 cloves and 10 pink peppercorns into the mixture and boil for 5 minutes until reduced by half.

Add 1/2 cup of minced onion, and again boil for 5-6 minutes until reduced by half. Add 1 cup of diced pumpkin and boil down for 10-15 minutes until the liquid is greatly reduced and has the consistency of jam. Remove the cloves before serving, and that’s it!

And it was much better than the stuff in a jar. Try it!

As for the jerk seasoning, you can use dry or wet. According to Pat, the brand of choice is Baron’s, made in St Lucia. She says that islanders often have a good-natured rivalry about who has the best rum and pepper sauce, and she says that it’s obvious that St Lucia’s is the best because even notoriously hard-to-please Jamaicans prefer Baron’s pepper sauce.