All day feast on Jamaican Jerk favorites

Mayor Bill de Blasio and wife Chirlane McCray make an appearance at the annual Jamaican Jerk Festival.
Photo by Toni Dubois

Queens might still be covered in jerk spices, smoke and proud Jamaican flags.

With high praises, full bellies, cooking demos and plenty more, the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival took over the borough’s Roy Wilkins Park for a day of “food, family and fun.”

The annual festival celebrated its fourth year featuring performances by Baby Cham, Majah Hype, a kid’s station equipped with face painting and a bouncy house, food demos and of course, plenty jerk.

First time attendee, Nicole Downer, battled the sun to soak in the good vibes she felt at the festival. “I like that everybody can come together, join and have a good time. There’s no fighting, it’s just nice out here,” Downer, first generation Jamaican American, said.

From jerk chicken to jerk lamb, attendees enjoyed a range of Caribbean delicacies from TK vendors. Jamaican nationals, descendants and members from the many Caribbean islands had a plethora of choices, choosing to eat their jerk with hard dough bread or with rice and peas. “I had my jerk chicken with bread and I’ve never had it like that before but my mom said that’s how Jamaicans eat it all the time,” Downer said

“I eat jerk chicken somewhat often but they all taste the same to me really. Some have more pepper than the other,” Dave Walker, Jamaican native, added.

Throughout the park, various vendors gave out freebies including T-shirts and other gift sets.

If you weren’t camped out at the performance stage, enjoying fresh coconut water or browsing through the many food vendors you were more than likely entranced by the jerk cook-offs.

Moderated by Chef Irie, Miss Jamaica Universe, Kaci Fenton, faced off against Mayor Bill De Blasio for a jerk chicken sandwich cook off. The competitors were judged on creativity, taste and presentation.

Reeling off his previous win in 2013, Mayor De Blasio was confident in his abilities to pull off the perfect sandwich. “Brace yourself for a flavor bomb,” the mayor told Chef Irie while adding the finishing touches to his sandwich.

Naming his dish the “New York Swaggah Sandwich,” the mayor ultimately accomplished a two-peat after defeating Miss Universe’s “100 Degree Sandwich.”

“I want to just say Miss Jamaica Universe you are a noble competitor but I had the power of the ages on my side,” the mayor said in a brief victory speech.

The participating chefs included celebrity Chef Edward Gallagher — known as Chef Eddie G. — who participated as a judge and in the cook-off for the first time.

With his experience in varying Caribbean food and wine festivals, this particular festival struck Chef Eddie G. particularly due to the community aspect and openness of the Jamaican people. “This is the first time doing this event, I do 35 food and wine festivals a year and this is my first Jamaican jerk seasoning festival,” he said. “The Jamaican people are such great, hospitable people. They love food, they love music, they love entertainment and there’s no hatred. If the rest of the world could act like Jamaicans then I think the world would be a better place.”

Despite the sea of Jamaican pride spread throughout Roy Wilkins Park, the Jamaican Jerk festival calls for a celebration of all islands to enjoy what it means to be Caribbean in New York. Plan to attend next year’s celebration in July 2016 to celebrate more than just the delicious taste of jerk seasoning on chicken, pork and more.

Reach reporter Alley Olivier at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at aoliv[email protected] Follow Alley on Twitter @All3Y_B.

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