Discussions about “Slow Food” tend to conjure up images of days gone by. Sheep grazing leisurely on the rolling hillsides in an old-fashioned European town, cheese made on a pioneer’s farm, candlelit dinners before the invention of buzzing, distracting cell phones. While it can be fun to indulge in these nostalgic reveries, what does Slow Food look like in today’s fast-paced world? This is the question Vincent Mcintosh is trying to answer.
No one could doubt that Vincent is a modern man. Dressed fashionably in dark-washed jeans and a plaid button up, I find him hunkered down behind a laptop plastered with stickers bearing logos of Grand Rapids businesses. He’s typing away, working on one of his many projects, but looks up with a vibrant smile as I approach.
“Tell me about Slow Food,” he requests.
Good, clean, fair food for all- these are the pillars of the Slow Food Movement. Food that’s made well, grown with care, available and accessible. Vincent nods in agreement: I’m preaching to the choir. He has grown up eating fresh vegetables and snacking on apples. His mother is a manager at Harvest Health, his father the sous chef at the Amway hotel. This guy knows good food when he sees it.
Vincent also knows that good, clean, fair food is viewed as a privilege for far too many. Both his parents were born in Jamaica and immigrated to London where they met. Together they made that transition to America in search of opportunities. Grand Rapids became their home – they settled in the Oakdale projects.
Vincent grew up in the projects: a food desert. He remembers his mom and dad working late into the night. They were “hustlers”, always on the lookout for the chance to progress. Amidst the all-consuming push to make a life in Grand Rapids, they managed to create real, wholesome food. The focus on whole foods from their native cultures remained. Even when pressed for time, frozen vegetables and leftover meat could be transformed into chicken curry.
“Here’s onion. Here’s garlic.”
His father would offer a bite of each for Vincent to sample as he watched dinner preparation.
“What do you taste?”
Ten-year-old Vincent let flavors bloom on his tongue. He gained an intimate knowledge of a vegetable’s pure taste.
If you know your ingredients, Vincent declares, “anything with salt and pepper you can make taste amazing.”
His parents’ hard work eventually won them work that allowed the family to move out of the projects into the suburbs. Vincent applied to culinary school in Traverse City. Yet, he was disenchanted, learning techniques that his accomplished father, who had cooked for both Amway and DeVos, had already taught him. He would play with assignments, creating meals that deviated from the recipes the instructors dispersed.
“If you follow recipes you’re cheating, you’re following a formula,” Vincent declares. Perhaps this philosophy comes from his heritage: In Jamaica every region cooks chicken curry a little differently. They have different vegetables in season, different flavor preferences, different techniques for cooking. The usual, structured culinary system of apprenticeship and hierarchy doesn’t work for Vincent either. He wants to create his own food, build his own restaurant, layer flavors the way his palate guides him – which leads us to Irie.
Vincent developed the concept for Irie and pitched it to his father, who agreed to back it. Irie itself is a brand, meaning the name can cover a line of drinks, microwavable meals, and any other ideas he comes up with. Irie.Kitchen – fresh, casual, healthy, and local – is the restaurant itself. It will serve Caribbean food, pulling from the Jamaican roots, with hefty, comforting, family style portions. He hopes to source from local farmers and work from a basic menu while adding in seasonal variation. There will be vegan and vegetarian options – jerk mushrooms and curried garbanzo beans for starters. He wants to create slow food for this fast-food loving generation. Irie.Kitchen will be quick, easy, comforting, and affordable but retain its nutrition, seasonality, integrity, and (perhaps most importantly) flavor.
Technology and video will be incorporated to capture the interest of today’s tech-savvy culture. A lookbook featuring food (a staple in the fashion industry) will replace the cookbook most restaurants produce. He already has created brief how-to videos and posted them on Instagram to help more people learn how to create delicious food. On top of it, he’s working on cooking fifteen turkeys to distribute to families for the holidays. The youthful exuberance Vincent approaches these ventures with is impossible to deny.
Are you worried about profit? About biting off more than you can chew? About details? About all that can go wrong when opening a restaurant? These questions flash through my mind immediately. Yet, Vincent is used to taking risks. He has taken after his parents with his hustling spirit: He already works as marketing director for Carbon Stories, a local media company and holds a supporting role in Munyagwa, a Grand Rapids-based clothing line. He’s used to risks, thinking outside the box, and rolling with the punches.
“What I’m doing is intuitive, has technique behind it, and feels good.” Vincent says with infectious confidence. “It’s gold.”