ONE OF THE FEW bright spots for the culinary scene in 2020 has been how chefs are innovating to serve their dishes and connect with diners in the new normal. Ryan and Shanice DiMaria’s Yaad Patty is almost exclusively sold through social media. (At least until they get their mobile trailer up and running.)
With that description, it sounds like the kind of niche, makeshift business you might find in New York City or Portland, Los Angeles, or Austin. But this is another culinary gem right here in Las Vegas. The story begins in Michigan, where DiMaria, now 29, was working in a hotel kitchen. A college student from Jamaica named Shanice, now 27, was on an educational exchange that placed her at the same hotel. You can imagine what happened next.
In 2015, the couple, now married, moved to Las Vegas, where Shanice could advance her career as a computer programmer while her husband began working in some of the best restaurants in the city, namely Shawn McClain’s Sage and Libertine Social (two casualties of the pandemic) and James Trees’ Esther’s Kitchen.
But Ryan always wanted his own business, and Shanice missed the taste of home. So Yaad Patty was born. “We came here and saw a few Jamaican restaurants and a Jamaican food truck,” says Shanice, who grew up in Trelawny, a parish (think government municipality, not church) on the northwest side of the island. “I was so excited because I saw they had patties and I tried them. They were alright, but it just wasn’t right. There was something wrong. Either the dough wasn’t right or the flavor of the meat inside wasn't right or the texture of the meat, it just wasn't right. No matter where I went, I just couldn't get it how I got it back home in Jamaica.”
That’s not to say that the DiMarias cracked the patty code right away. “It took at least a year-and-a-half to get it right,” Ryan says.
The stakes were higher than you might think. While Jamaican patties might not be mainstream in Las Vegas, they’re beloved by many expat Jamaicans, not to mention people who grew up with them in cities like New York or Miami. “Growing up, patties are a go-to meal,” Shanice says. “In Jamaica, there wasn’t any fast food per se, like you know how you have Burger King or KFC as your own? In Jamaica, our fast food is patties. For regular, day-to-day Jamaicans, there are patty shops. You can get patties really quickly. They are so delicious and so filling. Everybody loves patties.” (For the record, more patties and less KFC sounds damn good.)
But the dough, the dough, the dough. That was the main problem the couple ran into when trying to recreate the flavors of Shanice’s youth. At their best, Jamaican patties offer a flaky crust that envelopes a bold filling like beef with a hint of Scotch bonnet peppers or curried chicken. It might look simple, but executing the pocket is hard.
“There are a lot of layers involved with the dough,” Ryan explains. “That's what gives it the flakiness and the crunch, and the method of how it's made is what brings it together. Getting the dough worked down to get the nice flakiness but not have it be too tough or too chewy or too crispy—”
Shanice interjects: “First it was too greasy, another time it was too thin. We kept at it and kept developing it and it improved and improved.” Patty achievement unlocked. Along with the traditional beef and curried chicken patties, Yaad Patty also offers two vegan options — one with Beyond Meat and Scotch bonnet, and the other with a vegetable medley that includes spinach, peas, carrots, and collard greens.
After getting the patties right, the couple felt the next step was jerk chicken, which features spices imported from Jamaica and, just as important, the cooking method known as “jerk,” which required Ryan to rig up a homemade, traditional-style jerk vessel. It is through the jerk technique (the chef creates holes in the protein so the flavor can run deep) and the spice blend redolent of Scotch bonnet peppers, brown sugar, ginger, clove, and allspice that the sweet, smoky heat of jerk shines through. Not only is the food tasty, but it’s also affordable. You can get an entire jerk chicken, four patties of your choice, plus slaw and dinner rolls for $32. And, get this, he delivers to your door.
And the name Yaad Patty? Shanice explains, "Yaad means home, pretty much. If I see another Jamaican here, I'll say, ‘Hey, are you a yaad girl?’ ‘Oh, you're a yaadie.’ So yaad in Jamaican means home.”