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Annual Caribbean festival set for South Florida Nov. 14

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Participants serve up a variety of delights each year at the festival
Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival, one of the largest celebrations of Caribbean foods in the United States, returns to South Florida on Nov. 14.

Attendance has grown from its early days, starting in 2001. In recent years the festival, scheduled to be held at Markham Park in 2010, has attracted up to18,000 patrons.

Jamaicans usually provide the largest portion of the crowd, but the event welcomes every age and culture. At its official launch at the Stingerz Nightclub on Sept. 15, festival Chairman Eddy Edwards admitted that in times past, organizers failed to adequately meet the needs of the large crowd that showed up.

“We only had seven vendors,” Edwards recalled of the beginning, “and 4,000 people showed up.”

The festival has also drawn more than 60 vendors.

Vice Chairman Sydney Roberts said that the festival got its name from the popular jerk style of cooking coming out of Jamaica.

“When we looked back at the style of cooking that was coming out of Jamaica, jerk, was the most popular and thus the (festival’s) name was born.”

Jerk-style cooking is native to Jamaica. Meats are dry-rubbed or wet marinated with a mixture called Jamaican jerk spice. Jerk seasoning is traditionally applied to pork and chicken. Modern recipes also apply jerk spice mixes to fish, shrimp, shellfish, beef, sausage and tofu.

Jerk seasoning principally relies upon two items: allspice (called pimento in Jamaica) and Scotch Bonnet peppers. At the festival, cooks demonstrate creative ways in which jerk can be used.

Roberts said that what appeared as a simple food event nine years ago has grown into a corporation – Jamaican Jerk Festival USA, Inc., supported by Jamaica Awareness Inc. and Riddims Marketing.

As Grace is the new title sponsor of the event, (up until last year the title sponsor was Air Jamaica), Roberts noted that it gets the privilege of having its name included in the festival’s name.

Joy Thomas, market manager for Grace Foods, said that the jerk fest is all about food and that is what Grace is about. She said Grace is always looking for ways to serve its loyal customers and to allow them to experience the quality and multi-ethnic flavors of Grace products.

“Plus,” said Thomas, “the event brings families together.”

Roberts said each year a new feature is added to the festival. In 2010 kite flying will be introduced. Kite flying evolved out of St. Ann, Jamaica, where it was a huge hit.

Courtney Wallace, coordinator for The Jamaica International Kite Festival, said that kite flying is now global and introducing it to the festival is akin to adding another part of the Jamaican culture to the event. Wallace said that patrons new to kite flying will have the opportunity to ask questions and view a demonstration on how kites are made. The West Indian Kite Flyers Association, which is based in Washington, D.C., is scheduled to participate.

Staples such as the popular jerk cook off and domino competition remain in the festival’s line up. At the jerk cook off this year chefs are competing for the $2,500 cash prize, plus the opportunity to hoist the Dutch Pot Trophy.

“Publix (supermarket) sponsors the cook-off portion of the fest,” said June Minto, a member of the festival’s board.

Ruddy Schaaffe, the director of the domino competition, said that the competition will include 25 tables and 100 people vying for the $1,000 prize.

Richard Lue, a festival board member, acknowledged the festival’s success, but added that improved organization of the event will enhance each patron’s experience.

“By organization, I mean parking, travel and trade,” Lue said.

He assured everyone that the entertainment is truly Jamaican.

“We (organizers) will take a true piece of Jamaica to Markham Park,” Lue said.

Judith Hudson is a freelance writer for Caribbean Today.

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