Health-conscious New York chef brings the taste of Jamaica to Bucks County
What happens when you combine a touch of the Big Apple, a dash of Bucks County, and a healthy touch of Caribbean-inspired flavor?
An answer comes in the form of another question: Wah gwan?
The familiar Jamaican patois greeting is simply ‘what’s going on? Compressed, but it’s also the name of the first all-purpose seasoning in New Yorker’s Marcus Davis luxury spice line.
The self-taught chef launched Wah Gwan in March 2020 from the Bucks farm he has shared with his wife for nearly a year, Rose Orrell Davis, who grew up in New Hope.
As Davis emerged from his nearly 20-year steam-fitting career and his wife took on an entirely remote job, they realized they no longer needed to live near Manhattan. They moved out just before the pandemic hit.
As a child of Jamaican immigrants, the health-conscious culinary expert says “wah gwan,” a common way of saying hello, has a deeper meaning to him.
“Like, what’s going on now; what is happening in these times; what happens in the past, the future, the present? Davis said.
“Wah gwan with the food, wah gwan with the company, wah gwan with all these things?” Davis continued. “It seemed very fitting to name our flagship spice ‘Wah Gwan’ as we definitely produce it with a conscience in mind to always bring things back to what is happening with our food and our health.”
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He and Rose, who also has a background in nutrition, believe in healing yourself from within and taking care of the world and others in the process, he said.
The health aspect is essential, according to Davis. That’s why their signature seasoning blend, made with paprika, garlic powder, bell peppers, onion powder, proprietary herbs and organic rice hulls, is salt and sugar free.
Salt is often the first ingredient in all-purpose seasonings.
“We wanted to take that away to give people the ability to control their own salt and sugar and to make sure we keep health and wellness first and foremost in mind,” Davis said.
He credits Rose with the inspiration to launch Wah Gwan. A thoughtful Christmas present from her sparked the ‘light bulb moment’ that launched their business.
Davis, 44, said that by working as a steam fitter, those who knew his budding cooking skills knew they could ask him for advice on different spice blends to try.
“I never really had inspiration, you know, I took that path and tried to experience it,” Davis said.
Then came Rose’s gifts: a dried scotch bonnet powder, native to the Caribbean, and Pimentón de la Vera dulce, a sweet smoked Spanish paprika.
“I thought I would use them individually in my kitchen, but that’s when the inspiration came to put them together and build the spice blend around that, you know, putting all the flavors together. that you would normally put in a spice blend or all – for seasoning purposes, but making it into something you can use day in and day out, ”Davis said.
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The chef, who first learned about cooking using “Basic Classic Cooking Techniques”, says he’s no stranger to scotch bonnet powder. In Jamaican cuisine, it is the seasoning par excellence.
But finding a quality source with the right consistency has been a challenge for as long as he can remember. – You would be surprised, he said.
The couple were fortunate enough to find a Florida-based producer with reservations in Jamaica to supply them with the powder.
“He knows his product, takes great pride in it, and every pepper he grows, he grows for us and we deliver it,” said Davis. “It’s an important part of our supply chain and it also allows us to support agriculture. “
The economic impact of the pandemic has hit several businesses hard, leading them to go out of business in some cases. But for Davis, getting his new business off the ground with families spending more time at home actually worked in his favor.
Before launching the Wah Gwan seasoning line, Davis started producing videos on social media, teaching people how to nurture their culinary creativity.
“People were at home and people were paying attention to us,” he said.
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“(They) were yearning for different flavors, or there were people who maybe hadn’t entered the kitchen or hadn’t thought of it before, because you’re out, you can go to a restaurant, you can have lunch – you might not do that during the pandemic, ”Davis said.
The attention online then shifted to promoting their seasoning products, and their loyal viewers became customers.
“They started ordering it and using it in the kitchen everyday, it became part of their culinary arsenal,” said Davis.
The Wah Gwan range also includes a hot version of their all-purpose seasoning for those who prefer an extra kick, a dry brine, and a finishing salt called G Salt.
“(Wah Gwan) replaces so many spices that you would normally use,” Davis said.
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“We put it in one and kind of showed people how to use it, which worked for us because they were watching and learning at the same time,” he said.
He and Rose usually strive to eat clean with the occasional cheat meal added to the mix. One of the couple’s favorite dishes using their own seasoning is a simple grilled Wah Gwan salmon and pesto.
“A nice white basmati and roasted broccoli with Wah Gwan on it, olive oil, garlic,” Davis described. “The flavors are all there, it hits the mark and we can come back to it day after day. “
Their products are mostly available online through their website and social media, but Davis and his wife are struggling to sell them in physical retail stores.
The local response, he says, has been welcoming.
“I walked into a store and saw if they wanted or would sell (the products) and the reception was really positive and warm,” Davis said. “Even if they don’t take it, they are super happy to support the companies, and especially our company, it is very well received here.”