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Flavor, cultures collide: Dreamboat Cafe owner Jasmine Michel shares Guyanese-Chinese Fried Chicken recipe

Chef Jasmine Michel at a recent Aphrodisiac Summer Series pop-up dinner.
Photo courtesy of Dreamboat Cafe
Chef Jasmine Michel at a recent Aphrodisiac Summer Series pop-up dinner.

As part of a new series, “Making of a Dish,” BPR is sitting down with local chefs to learn about the dishes and experiences that have shaped them. First up: Chef Jasmine Michel, an Appalachian-Caribbean chef who is the owner of Dreamboat Cafe, a pop-up food series and publication based in Asheville. 

Have a chef you’d like us to interview? Send an email to lhackett@bpr.org.

Guyanese-Chinese fried chicken is not a dish you’d easily find at a local restaurant.

But for Asheville chef and writer Jasmine Michel, the dish is a childhood staple – one that reflects the complex legacy of Caribbean food, and the many cultures and countries that have contributed to its lineage.

Michel, who grew up in a Caribbean neighborhood of Miami, describes the dish as “a more diverse sister” to the classic southern fried chicken that’s common throughout the American South. In Miami, a place where Caribbean culture flourishes, it’s a common meal to order on Friday nights.

The chicken is brined in salt and citrus, boiled in a salty, ginger and star anise-spiked broth, then dredged in flour and fried. The result is a gentle, flavorful and remarkably juicy plate of chicken, Michel says.

“I'm just so in love with the aromatics of ginger and scallion and star anise. I never thought that you could infuse a piece of meat with so much flavor,” she said.

The dish shares similarities with Chinese soy-fried chicken, but with a preparation style that is distinctly Caribbean. The traditional Chinese version uses soy sauce, whereas the Guyanese-Chinese recipe calls for parboiling the chicken in a savory broth before it gets fried.

Guyanese-Chinese fried chicken is a byproduct of the massive influx of indentured servants who were brought to Guyana by ship in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“My family in particular came from India,” Michel shared. “Other families came from China, Portugal, Africa and brought their recipes to Guyana which created things like this Guyanese-Chinese fried chicken.”

The dish is one of Michel’s favorite meals and one that fits squarely within the “large umbrella” of Caribbean food, which she describes as a “beautiful fusion” of spices, tropical produce, protein and rice.

She likes to serve it with fried rice and a tremendous pile of cabbage.

“I make myself a controversy with this,” she joked. “Because many people only like a little bit of raw cabbage or cooked into their fried rice, but I am a huge believer in like half a head of cabbage, just shredded really thinly on top. It's just the most refreshing thing.”

“I make myself a controversy with this,” she joked. “Because many people only like a little bit of raw cabbage or cooked into their fried rice, but I am a huge believer in like half a head of cabbage, just shredded really thinly on top. It's just the most refreshing thing.”

Beignets, oxtail ragu and soursoup sweet tea were on the menu at this Dreamboat Cafe pop-up last October.
Photo courtesy of Dreamboat Cafe
Beignets, oxtail ragu and soursoup sweet tea were on the menu at this Dreamboat Cafe pop-up last October.

The past, present and future of Dreamboat Cafe

Dishes that are “expansive and intersectional,” much like the Guyanese-Chinese fried chicken, serve as the conceptual anchor for Michel’s Dreamboat Cafe, a nomadic food pop-up that started in Durham seven years ago, and in 2022 moved with Michel to Asheville.

“It started out because I was really tired and really sad about constantly feeling like there was no acknowledgement for marginalized people in the foodways,” Michel says. “But yet marginalized people are huge contributors to the food and hospitality industry. And so Dreamboat Cafe was born.”

“It started out because I was really tired and really sad about constantly feeling like there was no acknowledgement for marginalized people in the foodways,” Michel says. “But yet marginalized people are huge contributors to the food and hospitality industry. And so Dreamboat Cafe was born.”

Dreamboat doesn’t function as a traditional cafe – it currently has no brick-and-mortar location and sells zines and small-batch culinary products online. Recently, she and her partner, Alistair Clark, published “The Tree of Guinep,” an e-book that dives into emotional processing told through the recipes.

Michel also hosts pop-up events that range from window-service funnel cakes to the elaborate multi-course “Aphrodisiac Summer Dinner Series,” which serves up inventive and historic meals with a BIPOC audience in mind.

In the coming years, Dreamboat may have its very first permanent retail spot. Michel has outlined plans for an Appalachian-Caribbean Country Store in Old Fort. It’s presently in its fundraising stages.

With the advent of the store, Michel hopes to create a space that celebrates the intersection of Caribbean culture.

“As a Caribbean South Florida kid, you are really raised with a tremendous amount of intersections of different cultures. And so I had a tremendous amount of respect for being in the South but living amongst so many different Caribbean cultures and that's kind of the essence that I want to bring to our first brick-and-mortar store,” she said.

During her time as a line cook in Maine and Vermont, she also developed an appreciation for rustic country stores stocked with local cheese, honey, flour and sometimes a “shopkeeper knitting something.”

Michel envisions her future market as “a hub, an adventure and coming home, all in one” where families from different nationalities can meet and mingle over coffee.

“I want the ethnic aisle to have its own store,” she said.

Spices will, of course, be a key item. Some of Michel’s favorites include cumin, nutmeg, cinnamon and jira (a roasted variety of cumin). She also hopes to offer an assortment of cheese, including varieties popular in the Caribbean.

In addition to spices, Michell says staple goods like rice and beans will be a crucial component.

“It's really just one of those things that if there's a place that serves rice and beans – whether it's a market or a restaurant – it's considered a safer, brave space to be in and so that's definitely a marker for me and something that I want to have available,” she said.

Guyanese-Chinese Fried Chicken
Screen grab courtesy of Dreamboat Cafe
Guyanese-Chinese Fried Chicken

Jasmine Michel’s Guyanese-Chinese Fried Chicken

Ingredients

- 2 lbs of chicken wings, can substitute with quartered pieces of whole chicken

- 3 stalks of green onions

- 3 tbsp grated roughly chopped ginger

- 3 star anise pieces

- All-purpose flour, corn starch, potato starch or rice flour (can use a combination of all)

- Coarse sea salt

- Frying oil

- Squeezed citrus halves

Directions

  1. Start by washing your meat with water, squeezed citrus halves, and salt. Pat dry and set aside while gathering ingredients for the boil. 
  2. In a deep saucepan filled with water, add the green onion, ginger, and star anise, a hefty pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Drop the chicken into the pan to parboil for 3-5 minutes until pale in color but still raw in the middle. 
  3. Set chicken on a paper towel and heat frying oil in a second pan to 350 degrees. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour and fry for 6 to 8 minutes until crispy and golden. 
  4. Finish with salt and serve with white rice and freshly sliced scallions.

Watch a video of Michel preparing the Guyanese-Chinese Fried Chicken.

Laura Hackett joined Blue Ridge Public Radio in June 2023. Originally from Florida, she moved to Asheville more than six years ago and in that time has worked as a writer, journalist, and content creator for organizations like AVLtoday, Mountain Xpress, and the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce. She has a degree in creative writing from Florida Southern College, and in 2023, she completed the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY's Product Immersion for Small Newsrooms program. In her free time, she loves exploring the city by bike, testing out new restaurants, and hanging out with her dog Iroh at French Broad River Park.