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Columbia Inspired

I Love This Jerk and You Will Too!

May 10, 2021 10:49AM ● By Adrienne Ross

If you’re excited for the fresh produce and delicious local fare at farmers markets opening back up in May, there’s one booth you can’t miss – the one transformed into an island escape. Reggae music and the enticing aroma of authentic Jamaican jerk chicken will draw you in, where you’ll find Althea offering samples of her handmade spices while her husband Omar tends to the grill or chops the tops off of coconuts with a machete. “We want to give them the full island experience,” says Omar as children dance and drink from straws holding coconuts as big as their heads. The sign on the booth says Althea’s Almost Famous Jerk. Why ‘almost famous’ you might ask? “Because people would try my Jerk Sauce and say you are going to be famous!” Hanson says, “And I would always respond, well… I’m not yet!” She might be closer to fame than she thinks. 

It has been a long journey for Althea Hanson. It started long ago in her grandmother's kitchen in Jamaica, where she learned to cook, use spices, and all about giving back. Spending time with her grandmother fueled her love of cooking. Columbia became a second home when she moved here as a teenager. Other jobs kept her busy over the years but food has always been her passion, “I always loved to cook but never thought about it being a career.” In 2015, Hanson decided that she wanted to adopt her goddaughter Sherika from Jamaica but she didn’t know how she would raise the funds to cover the cost. While cooking for friends one day, one suggested that her food was so good she should start charging for it. The idea grew from there. Hanson started out by offering catering for her authentic Jamaican cuisine. She handed out fliers promoting her at her local hairdresser’s, and pretty soon everyone was talking about it. Quickly events filled her evenings and weekends were booked with weddings. 

Omar has been supportive of her dream from the start. “He does the heavy lifting and is the fix-it man,” she says. Most of her vegan and vegetarian meal ideas are inspired by him due to his vegetarian diet. They grew up together in Jamaica and a few times a year are able to travel back to their hometown of St. Elizabeth. They have created The Hanson Foundation that donates to the elementary school they attended together. “We just want to give back.” 

 Althea's effervescence is as refreshing as her hand pressed juices. “We have all the authentic Jamaican flavors: papaya, mango, beets, carrot, green medley (spinach, celery, green apple), we also have an alkaloe (kale and aloe) raw honey and fresh lemon juice.” She is as pure in her interactions with others as the fine ingredients in all her menu items. “I try to accommodate people’s diets as much as possible. I use coconut milk as a substitute for milk, and ginger and raw honey as natural sweeteners to avoid the overly sweet taste. We don’t use a lot of salt in our foods, and we have a homemade green seasoning that we use made of blended scallion, fresh thyme, and garlic, instead of other salty products.” If a customer wants to make a special order they can pick it up the following Sunday. If you want to share the experience with others or store some for yourself, you can find her specialties available to purchase online. Her website allows access to all the sauce, fresh juices and catering options they can handle.

Now they’ve taken this journey mobile. You’ll spot their brightly colored newly wrapped food trailer around town. It’s hard to miss “Althea's Almost Famous Jerk”. The playful colors stand out and are reminiscent of Caribbean hues. They have been conscientious about taking precautions to make interactions safe. Always masked and gloved while preparing and serving food. Their food truck has a QR code that makes it easy for customers to quickly scan and upload their menu. They’ll still be frequenting their regular spots, the Clarksville Farmers Market on Saturdays and Oakland Mills Farmers Market on Sundays. Throughout the week you’ll find them at various locations in Columbia never staying in one spot too long. Stop by and try the jerk chicken smothered in sauce with a side of rice and you will see why she's "Almost Famous".

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