Jess & Luke, thanks for taking the time to chat with you. I know you are really busy right now. What have you got going?
We’re in the middle of our festival season so it’s pretty much go, go, go from May to September. We still keep our other sites running as usual so it always gets a bit crazy when we throw all our summer events in to the mix too.
Tell us a bit about Only Jerkin’. How did it all start?
Only Jerkin’ is fried chicken with big Caribbean flavours. Taking inspiration from my childhood and home cooking, it’s a shout to my mum and nan while bringing our own little twist. It started with some innocent experimenting at home and combining our love of fried chicken and Caribbean food. Fried jerk chicken nuggets in a ginger beer batter was our first success and still our signature dish.
The rise of street food has been incredible. How have you seen it evolve over the last few years?
Yeah, it’s been crazy to see how far it’s come. Street food has seriously upped its game from the kind of food we’d eat as youngsters. You have to be so much more than just good food now as well. You need to be a brand that stands out and stays current. We love how open everyone is now to casual dining. Street food is inclusive and is such a social way of enjoying food. It’s great to see people from all walks of life enjoying our menu.
Why do you think it has become so popular?
Traders are pushing boundaries with new flavours and being bold with new exciting dishes. We’ve eaten some amazing food since we started OJ – a definite perk of street food trading. Street food in London is definitely a reflection of the city’s cultural diversity. It’s exciting to see cuisines from all around the world being fused together on the streets of London; it’s what makes us passionate about Only Jerkin’.
Street food has a carnival atmosphere to it as it’s not about sitting down and being waited on. It also means you can involved with venues and events. Music is a big part of what you do too. Tell us about the Only Jerkin’ Sound System.
OJ Sound was a project that we had been talking about for a long time. It’s about bringing people together through the love of food and music. We love everything about carnival and what it’s about. We built our own sound system at the start of this year – a dream come true. The sound is heavy and can cater to some big venues. It currently sits at our Birmingham space but we can’t wait to take it on tour and bring it to London. We just wanna play good music on a great system and serve tasty food.
If you had to choose just one record that sums up the vibe of the Only Jerkin’ Sound System what would it be?
Best Dressed Chicken In Town by Dr Alimantado has become our slogan so it’s only right that it’s our song. It grew a strong punk following when released in the ’70s which we love too.
We really like your pimped up Mercedes van. Having a well-equipped mobile kitchen is vital to your business, obviously. But it’s also the first way for the public to see what you do and what you’re about.
Ah, the Jerk Bus. Everyone knows the Jerk Bus which just shows how important the design of it is. Aside from being a kitchen it’s also a moving advertisement round the UK. We always loved the boxy shape of the Merc Vario and how it had a sort of old school look. Our aesthetic has always been pretty consistent so figuring out the branding for it came quite naturally. Our logo was designed by one of my close friends Natalie Doto. She designed it for me as a birthday surprise when Only Jerkin’ was just an idea. We definitely owe a lot to her for giving the idea legs. My brother is a designer – Pref – so he now looks after all of our design work which is amazing.
Summer is an especially busy time for you guys. You do quite a lot of street food markets. How do you manage it all?
We couldn’t do any of it without our amazing team. We are really lucky to have got the business to a stage where our team manage a lot of our sites without us needing a huge amount of involvement which means we can focus on expanding the business in other areas. Undeniably it’s a lot of hard work through the summer but totally worth it when the feedback is positive and you see people having a great time at Only Jerkin’.
And you actually have a permanent spot in Camden. Tell us about that.
Yeah, our first permanent spot. We have been there for a couple years now and that site was a real turning point in the business as we went from operating as a pop-up to suddenly being open 364 days of the year. It’s an amazing location. The footfall and exposure is huge as its literally busy all year round so for business and getting the name out there it’s been great.
Takeaway food used to mean cheap and convenient but that’s definitely not the case anymore. Consumers are much more discerning today – not just about flavour but also quality. What makes Only Jerkin’ special and different from everyone else out there?
Like the food I grew up with we set out for each dish to be big on flavour. This means each piece of chicken gets a healthy dose of marinade at least 24 hours before cooking. The fries are seasoned with our special jerk rub, the slaw is creamy yet sharp and our homemade dips are punchy, spicy and fruity.
What are you up to for summer?
A few more festivals through August and September as well as some of our own events – Only Jerkin’ Sound. And we will begin our monthly residency soon for Only Jerkin’ Sound in London so watch this space.
And what’s next in the Only Jerkin’ story?
We really want to push the event side of the business now and be known for our parties and music as much as our food. That’s really what we have always been about – the whole experience at Only Jerkin’. The big dream is to have our own venue which celebrates food and music. That is definitely in the pipeline at some point too.
If you could give one top tip to make delicious chicken at home what would it be?
When marinating chicken always leave it for a minimum of 24 hours to make it extra juicy.
Check out when and where Only Jerkin’ are through their website here