This Grilled Cheese Sandwich Was 12 Years in the Making

Chef Shorne Benjamin's Caribbean take on an American staple made for an instant classic.
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AvatarIan Martin
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Must try

Tourists and locals alike begin lining up outside Fat Fowl about an hour or so before it opens for business.

The food stall is tucked inside Dekalb Market in downtown Brooklyn, buzzing with people waiting for their chance to try Chef Shorne Benjamin's famous oxtail grilled cheese.

There's two reasons this sandwich draws so much attention.

First, Chef Shorne says the oxtail grilled cheese is a true culmination of his experiences living in the Caribbean and in the U.S. His love of both cultures shines through his cuisine.

He grew up on the island of Saint Lucia eating his grandmother's home cooking, including braised oxtail.

“She was my private chef, and she pretty much nurtured me with food and love,” he said. "I remember she had a restaurant and she was feeding people and making everybody happy. I just wanted to continue that legacy."

Chef Shorne migrated to New York in 1999 with hopes of getting into finance but transitioned to culinary arts shortly after his arrival.

“I mean, 1999 was a crazy, unpredictable year," he said.

Instead of business school, he attended the French Culinary Institute, working in a lot of high-end kitchens. But he says he always had higher aspirations.

“I've been chasing my own restaurant for a couple of years now," he said. "I wanted to show people who I am as a chef and my signature style of cooking which I call new age Caribbean cuisine”

Chef Shorne says the oxtail grilled cheese was 12 years in the making. He wanted to blend the flavors of his childhood with the techniques he picked from his time working in kitchens.

“I'm already accustomed to the Caribbean but I wanted to just just refine it, not to take away what it is, but just to make it mine.”

After a series of pop ups, Chef Shorne saved enough money to open Fat Fowl at the tail end of the pandemic with little to no financial assistance.

He's been a viral hit ever since.

But there's another reason for the outsized attention on his oxtail grilled cheese: it's absolutely delicious. The sandwich is crispy and soft, juicy and creamy, sweet and spicy all at once.

The oxtail is braised for hours in red wine, tomato, carrots, celery and onion and beef stock until it's nearly fall-off-the-bone. Then Chef Shorne finishes it with scotch bonnet pepper sauce and further reduces the spicy jus.

The sourdough bread is crisped on a hot flat top with copious amounts of butter, before sweet tomato jam, piles of braised oxtail and Gouda are added and melted to absolute perfection.

Nearly everyone who happened upon Chef Shorne during our visit stopped to tell him how much they appreciate his food.

“It's emotional, connecting with people over food. It’s love, he said. "That's the only way I could describe it, love.”

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