“It’s like a cultural exchange through food,” said Byron Crooks, who has an H-2B visa and is working as a chef at the Cape Cod Caribbean Cafe this summer. Crooks is from Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica. “Through food, other people get to know how we talk, laugh, and have conversations.”
How bananas have changed over time
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services agency, the number of Jamaicans working in the U.S. through the H-2B program has grown by 84 percent in the past 10 years, from 4,874 in 2011 to 8,950 in 2021. Matthew Lee at Tocci & Lee, an immigration lawyer in Cape Cod, uses data from the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce to estimate that by the summer of 2000, 500 Jamaicans were working on the Cape, and that number reached a high of 1,000 before the pandemic.
In 1997, Mr. Burke came to the Cape for the first time after meeting an H-2B recruiter in Jamaica. He grew up in Port Antonio, Jamaica, where he watched his mother cook. Later, he worked in resorts and cruise ship kitchens. After one year as a seasonal worker, Mr. Burke got a green card and worked as a cook and marine technician in the Cape towns of Harwich and Chatham. He decided to stay on the Cape because he could make money there and follow his dream of opening a restaurant.
In 2008, Mr. Burke opened the Jerk Cafe. This was three years after he became an American citizen. The restaurant’s jerk became very popular very quickly, and Chef Shrimpy’s banana fritters are a favorite side dish. One fritter tops each order, almost like a garnish. It tastes like lightly fried bits of sweet banana bread.
When Mr. Burke was young, his mother sometimes made these on Sundays. “When our poor parents didn’t have sugar, they would crush a banana and mix it with a little flour to make us something sweet,” he said. “I wish she would do it every day.”