Caribbean Jerk Cornish Hen from Stephanie ‘Chef Stef’ Penn

tephanie "Chef Stef" Penn won't hesitate in telling you that she's one of the "baddest chefs in metro Detroit."

Her credentials are legit: Appearances on the Food Network, local radio and TV appearances, and she was a personal favorite of the late, great radio host Angelo Henderson, for whom she did a regular cooking segment on his WCHB radio show. "I've been cooking in my life since I was a kid," she says. "Most people of color who go into the cooking learn early. We had to go into the kitchen and learn how to feed ourselves."

Penn runs Asiatic Acoustic Mobile Dinner Theatre, a traveling dining experience that is not a catering company, she emphasizes. It's a full-on, one-of-a-kind event where she'll bring her equipment, her staff and provide food and entertainment.

A military brat who later joined the Marine Corps, Penn was exposed to cuisines across the world through her travels. Now she can do it all-French bistro, Pacific Rim, Caribbean, Thai, you name it. A particular favorite is fusion: a blend of east and west coast styles.

"We want to be engaged," says Penn, who earned a bachelor's in food service management before going to culinary school. "I cook in front of people. If you're paying for something, you should see what you're paying for." Growing up, Penn didn't have a turkey on the table every year because of her travels. "We saw friends and families having Caribbean jerk chicken lollipops (or) guinea mussels. Everybody's culture is different."


But there's one commonality, and that's celebrating the family. "In our community, it's very important, because it brings about family tradition. It's a time to appreciate our homecoming through comfort food dishes."

And, she adds, "In other cultures, it's also a time to reflect on the hard times people have gone through. … It's not always just a kumbaya."

Caribbean Jerk Cornish Hen

Prep time: 30-45 minutes

Cook time: 1 hour, 20 minutes

Total time: About 2 hours, 30 minutes


  • 4 Scotch bonnet or habanero chiles, stemmed and halved
  • 5 small scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
  • 2 tsp. chopped thyme
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 cup light brown sugar 
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. dark rum 
  • 2 Tbsp. water 
  • Kosher salt 
  • 4 Cornish game hens (about 2 pounds each; cut in half to yield 8 servings)
  • Dried cranberries and slivered almonds (to taste)


Sauce: To make Caribbean jerk sauce, in a blender or food processor, puree the Scotch bonnets with the scallions, thyme, garlic powder, brown sugar, soy sauce, dark rum and water. Season with 1 tablespoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

Cornish hens: Cut the Cornish hens in half and rinse off. Place the halved Cornish hens in two sauté pans or woks. Cook on high heat. Add minced garlic and pureed Caribbean jerk sauce over the Cornish hens and cook for 45 minutes until sauce reduces. Cut high heat off and let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Top with dried cranberries and slivered almonds if desired.

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