It's taken a few years, but Theo Myrie has learned to follow his gut, in the kitchen and in life.
It served the Jamaican-born chef well in high school when he stood in front of his home economics class at Cameron Heights, cutting slices out of a tomato to make them look like the petals of a rose.
That little trick, and the cooking skills that backed it up, so impressed his teacher, she helped land him a job behind the grill at Charcoal Steakhouse learning from some of the best in the business.
A decade later, the 29-year-old chef has his own food truck, catering company and takeout counter in the heart of the Cambridge Business Park on Cherry Blossom Road.
But getting to where he is today wasn't as simple as following his instincts.
Myrie was 15 when he came to Canada with his family. His early ambition was to work at one of the resorts on the coast, Ochos Rios, Montego Bay, Negril.
“I’m a foodie and I always have been," Myrie says.
But a career in hospitality and tourism didn’t seem as plausible when he arrived in Waterloo region.
After graduating from high school, he briefly considered becoming a mechanic, had a few starts and stops in local restaurants, and ended up working in a Guelph factory for two years.
His other dream of becoming a police officer was out of reach. He barely had enough for tuition and no way to cover living expenses. His new car was draining his paycheck. And when the repo man came, he felt like he'd been handed a clean slate.
It was time to follow his instincts and get back on track with his original goal, even if getting to school and work meant waiting for the bus.
Myrie enrolled in business college, aiming for an honours average and the $5,000 tuition break that came with it.
His mantra, he says, was “just show up. Just do it and good things will happen."
Good things did happen. He graduated with honours, honed his skills in the kitchen and launched Irie Myrie’s Caribbean Catering Company.
It was a name he had in mind from the start. “Irie” means good vibes and positive energy in Jamaican patois, and Myrie is all about spreading positivity wherever he goes; not only through his food but by giving back to the communities that supported his dream in Canada and Jamaica.
He began building a list of clients, serving up hundreds of jerk chicken meals, oxtails, curry, and roti at multicultural festivals.
Then he bought a food truck and hit the road. It was a risk, but he knew his decision was the right one when he parked his truck in Toronto’s entertainment district on a weekend in the summer of 2019 and pulled in $7,000 in one day.
“Nobody ever paid me 7 Gs in eight hours in my life," he says.
The mission statement for his business is simple; you can’t fake Caribbean food. For it to be authentic Jamaican, it has to be fresh, it has to be natural.
“Jamaican food is all about flavour," he says. "We like spice, but not too hot. Spice opens up your palate so you can taste more."
Myrie says he learned early on it's possible to feed people healthy, fresh food at a cost that doesn't break the bank.
"Why are we feeding people such crap,” he wondered. “We can afford to do better.”
The last 18 months have been a struggle for everyone in the hospitality sector and Myrie is no exception.
Since COVID hit, he's been putting in 16 or 18 hour days with help from his mom and godmother, just to keep the business above water.
But landing the new catering kitchen on Cherry Blossom Road in March was like karmic payback for all the positivity he'd been spreading.
“I fell in love with it the moment I walked in,” Myrie says of the kitchen he took over from the retiring owner The Hungry Olive and Select Service Catering, Kelvin Lewin.
The series of fortunate events continued when Lewin handed Myrie all of their catering contracts. He says it was “so surreal” he didn’t celebrate for three months.
Now that he's settled in, Myrie is dreaming up plans for the space.
There isn’t room for dine in, but he wants to build a deck around the side of the building where takeout customers can enjoy their meals.
In 2011, Myrie made his first trip back to Jamaica after coming to Canada.
He fell in love with his home country all over again, this time from a new perspective.
He’d seen the roughest side in his formative years, but now he had enough money to stay on the coast and experience the beauty and wealth. It shocked him to his core.
“That was a wake up call for me,” he says.
He wanted to help his fellow Jamaicans and knew then that having his own successful business was the only way he would be able to do it.
“That’s why focusing on career and what your dreams and goals are in life is so important,” he says.
Now he puts a portion of his profits into IrieCan, a charity he created to provide school supplies, clothing and medical equipment to Jamaica.
Someday he hopes to be able to fly retired teachers down to Montego Bay to teach the children who can't go to school because their families can’t afford it.
In Jamaica, he learned that as poor as the people are, they're part of a community that's always looking out for each other.
In Canada, he learned how much opportunity is out there and how much support Canadians and small business owners have.
“I love that about Canada,” he says. “It gives me hope.
"That’s why I’m the man I am today. I choose to take the best out of every environment that I’m in," he says.
"Canada changed my life in ways words can’t describe."