Kitchen hustle

Irie Kitchen is the passion project of chef Vince McIntosh.
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Chef Vince McIntosh’s baby, Irie Kitchen, is seriously hot stuff, and he knows it’s home to some of the finest Jamaican food you’ll get outside of the Caribbean. McIntosh is a 23-year-old chef, podcaster, ambitious entrepreneur and a nimble showman who is always ‘hustling’ — his word, not mine.

On a Friday afternoon, shortly before 3 p.m., customers begin queuing up just before Irie Kitchen, at 6630 Kalamazoo Ave. SE, opens for its weekend-only hours, which are 3 p.m. – 8 p.m. Friday through Sunday. They are eager for heaping piles of jerk chicken, rice and beans, and mixed greens, all of which stem from McIntosh’s childhood, his parents’ Jamaican heritage and his world travels. In the restaurant’s open kitchen, McIntosh and his dad Vincent stir cauldrons of spiced pulses and curries, flipped and stretched roti, and deep-fried festivals — a cornmeal dumpling.

Irie Kitchen’s monochrome whitecap gray interior is starkly alluring with an enormous black metal map of Jamaica divided into 14 parishes, a smattering of tables and delightful island hospitality. The countertop, a parade of hot sauces — BLiS Blast Hot Pepper Sauce, Grace Hot Pepper Sauce Very Hot, and Grace Scotch Bonnet Hot Pepper Sauce. Scotch bonnet is the choice pepper of the Caribbean — in case you need more fire.

The menu board is split into three categories: jerk chicken, Irie Box main proteins and vegan. The jerk spiced chicken served with Scotch bonnet-laced jerk sauce is Irie Kitchen’s signature dish. It is bristling with McIntosh’s jerk rub made with “lots of scallions, allspice, black pepper, salt and then I get creative and throw in a Scotch bonnet, lemon, a bit more,” McIntosh shared, not giving away his secrets. Charred just this side of perfect with a brilliant depth of flavor, the jerk chicken dinners (half chicken or whole chicken) “is something people die for,” McIntosh said.

The social side

Vince McIntosh is the ultimate social enthusiast, working all the social media angles. Online he uses the handle Iriedon, combining the Irie brand with ‘don’ which means boss in Italian. You can find him on Facebook, Instagram and on
two podcasts.

“I’m a creative being — sharing me. I’ve always been that way. It’s my imprint,” he said.

He co-hosts the Irie Lemon podcast with food blogger Liz Della Croce (of The Lemon Bowl, thelemonbowl.com), and when we spoke he was preparing to launch his own Iriedon podcast.

“I’m thinking of short episodes about giving people advice,” McIntosh said. “It’s hustle and conversations. Everyone knows I’m full of little tidbits.

“I was just a weird kid, who had a lot of ideas. Now I’m a big kid with ways to make it happen,” he added.

A peek at McIntosh’s witticisms

Take your inch. (Which) means don’t give up. If you’re an entrepreneur, do something in this world.

Everyone can’t come. Like you have to be okay with leaving your tribe. Some people are afraid of that — leaving what you know.

Play your role. Know your positions.

Connect with Irie Kitchen

Instagram.com/irie.kitchen
facebook.com/IRIEgr

Connect with Vince McIntosh

irie.kitchen
facebook.com/Irie.Lemon1

McIntosh’s vegan menu offers the unexpected. You’ll find curry garbanzo beans, rasta beans, jerk portobello mushrooms or jerk tofu. The jerk and Irie Boxes come with generous side helpings of rice and peas — though the peas are really beans but it’s the island colloquial way to call it rice and peas regardless of the kind of beans that are used — and mixed greens made up of crunchy ribbons of collard, kale and carrots — McIntosh’s take on Jamaican callaloo, a dark leafy green vegetable.

The restaurant is a family affair. His father, born in Ocho Rios, and his mother Camele, born in St. Catherine, are supportive parents happy to help out. Camele McIntosh is happy to share sun-kissed and non-alcoholic beverages, including ginger beer, lemonade, an Irie mango-blueberry-and-strawberry smoothie, and sorrel, which is the Jamaican word for hibiscus, which grows in abundance all over the island. Irie Kitchen’s sorrel drink is a glorious deep fuchsia mixture of hibiscus, freshly grated ginger, guava and cane sugar — brimming with good-for-you antioxidants.

“When I say we make everything, we make everything — we don’t open cans and all that.”
Vince McIntosh

“It’s like a process,” McIntosh said. “When I say we make everything, we make everything — we don’t open cans and all that.”

He continued, “The Caribbean food in my household has been the biggest thing. My mom and pops made amazing food all the time. My house was that house where everyone came to eat. Me being a little hustler, I was like we have to start a restaurant.”

McIntosh, a 2014 graduate of East Kentwood High School, started at Great Lakes Culinary Institute in Traverse City but his dreams wouldn’t stop so he soon ditched culinary school to chase them — one being opening Irie Kitchen in July 2017.

Challenging times

Despite early success, Irie Kitchen suffered a whammy of hurt during the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown and again on June 3 when the restaurant was attacked and vandalized during the summer’s civil unrest. Without missing a beat, McIntosh’s Irie Lemon co-podcaster, Liz Della Croce, successfully crowdfunded the extensive repair — raising $100,00 in mere days. The outpouring of support for the restaurant and McIntosh was astonishing.

When McIntosh opened Irie Kitchen three years ago, the word “Irie” became his brand — really his heart and soul moving forward. McIntosh has since run his mini empire with the word “Irie” in all of his projects, including the podcast that he co-hosts with Croce, of The Lemon Bowl, a healthy food, travel and lifestyle blog. With energy and enthusiasm, talking a mile a minute about what’s next, McIntosh is never too far away from the kitchen. He caters during the week when the restaurant is closed, hosts pop-up edible events and is busy exploring opportunities to package or manufacture his products for supermarkets and dreaming up the very yummiest of daily specials.

And if you’re looking for advice when ordering, try the curry goat, a luscious combination of goat meat in a velvety sauce. It’s McIntosh’s favorite. “I love good goat meat; it tastes like lamb and beef together — if you get a younger goat. Old musty goats are not our style. We get it from New Zealand and it’s really the best,” he said.

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