Started by Stephanie Alexander and her Jamaican husband, Monty, mainly as a way to sell products imported from the West Indies, Jamaica House served curries, Jamaican escoveitched fish and a mean pumpkin soup. It quickly became an institution on Lygon Street, Carlton.
Stephanie Alexander was a librarian not a trained chef, but says her mother gave her a love of food and understanding of the place of good food in a full life. In her biolgraphy, she describes herself as an “accidental chef”.
Her first restaurant, Jamaica House, was founded with her then husband Rupert Montague, known as Monty. The couple had met in London and, on returning to Australia, saw the restaurant as a way to generate an income.
The restaurant closed after a couple of years, but re-opened in other premises with Tony Bilson as chef. However, shortly afterwards, the marriage ended, as did Jamaica House. Stephanie went on to work with Mietta O’Donnell and in 1976 opened the first Stephanie’s restaurant in Fitzroy. In 1980 the restaurant moved to a grand mansion in Hawthorn where it operated until 1997.
At that time Stephanie abandoned the restaurant business and has devoted herself to other projects, notably the School Garden Program.