Chef Winston Murdock makes sweet renditions of Jamaican favourites
Always save room for dessert, they say. For pastry chef Winston Murdock, his deliciously sweet renditions of Jamaican favourites are mainstays that resonate in the stomachs and hearts of many after just one bite.
Finding desserts such as ice cream, brownies and cakes more popular with locals after meals and dealing with more health conscious consumers, Murdock made the decision to create unique desserts that are healthier. These desserts have less fats, sugar and artificial flavourings and incorporate more natural ingredients, like fruit.
“Some of the desserts that I found fit this category are distinctively Jamaican. They contain a healthier fat like coconut oil. They are not heavily saturated with dairy and they can easily be converted to feed a vegan. Each of them are unique and all come with a story that creates an interesting topic for conversation around the dinner table,” he told Food.
Going by the moniker Pastry Bear, he is, as the name suggests, a lover of all things sweet and anything coconut — an ingredient he believes is underutilised and not as appreciated as it should be. “If I were to list my favourite desserts to create, then it would be the elevated versions of the coconut gizzada, tamarind balls, bulla and pear, plantain tart and coconut toto,” he highlighted.
In this industry, he has seen chefs focus on Jamaican flagship dishes like jerked chicken, oxtail, curry goat and rice and peas, often excluding old school local desserts. “I believe that these very flavourful, indigenous foods can be showcased in a more upscale way.” His brand, therefore, represents everything sweet about that traditional island taste.
“Whenever I step into a kitchen, bakery, grocery store or market, each ingredient speaks to me, giving me the opportunity to create a recipe balanced in flavour, texture and presentation. My relationship with food goes deeper than just adding a few ingredients to a pot. It is a representation of my culture, my beliefs and my personality. It’s the best way to define me,” he shared.
His passion for pastry has experienced an evolution of sorts. “During my primary to high school years, I would spend the Christmas holidays at my grandmother, Norma Murdock’s home in Portland, and that’s where I was introduced to baking her famous Christmas cake, complemented by sorrel.”
While on break during the Yuletide season, his grandmother got him a job at the local bakery, before later enrolling him in the Runaway Bay HEART Hotel and Training Institute. Initially attending the school out of respect for her, he was introduced to hands-on training on properties and at the pastry shops.
“This was one of the major pivoting points of my life. The first day I walked in that kitchen, I knew instantly that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Watching the then pastry chef Gilbert McKenzie work his magic with the thick and velvet liquid semi-sweet chocolate, the smell of freshly baked croissants and danish, the sound of the mixer rumbling as the butter and sugar cream, loud chatter filled with excitement as the team prepared cakes cookie and classic boutique French pastry, it was pure euphoria,” he confessed.
Receiving the c hef de cuisine from The Culinary Institute of America, he worked his way through the flames, cooking up years of service, experience and self-education. His career began on a casual note while he entertained another profession. But as time grew, so did his skills and he began dedicating more time and resources to the culinary artwork.
For his efforts, he won multiple local confectionery competitions such as the World Skills Jamaica and the Taste of Jamaica showcase, where he was awarded Pastry Chef of the Year, going up against the very same chef he started out with in his career and winning.
“This win has allowed me to become a member of the Jamaican culinary team for two years, representing the country internationally at the Taste of the Caribbean competition. I was about three years in when I discovered that this path was meant for me and meant to be,” he said.
Seeing every obstacle as an opportunity to pursue his wildest dreams, chef Murdock is excited to be stirring the pot and baking, much to the excitement of an international dining audience.
He went on to start his company called Naycha Dinner Club; a pop-up dinner and private chef or catering brand that he hopes to turn into a restaurant one day. “Naycha or nature is the reason for our existence. Nature brings life and food comes from ‘naycha’, which is important to sustain life.”
As he celebrates 17 years in the hospitality sector, his mission is to educate future chefs and foodies via the Pastry Bear podcast. He is also making plans to teach a dessert masterclass in the summer, “My dessert masterclass, which I will be launching in late summer of 2023, will primarily focus on elevating the Jamaican desserts that I grew up eating and making them more appealing to the rest of the world.”