Jamaica has always taken its food seriously, but in recent years, the local culinary landscape “tun up”,as we would say in local parlance. One indication of the increased interest in Jamaican cuisine and all things culinary, is the sponsoring of huge food-related events by two of our major newspapers.
This month the Jamaica Observer culminated its annual celebration of Jamaican food with the 17th annual Table Talk Food Awards and the 12th annual Foodie Seminar. Of course as your ‘boots on the ground’, Jamaica Culinary Tours had to be present at both events!
Even better, in the lead up to the Food Awards, Janet, our Tour and Creative Experience Director was Parish Ambassador for the parish of Trelawny,home of our Falmouth Food Tour. Along with her business partner Marina Delfos, Janet journeyed through the hills and valleys of the parish in search of what the Observer referred to as ‘hidden culinary gems’. Their favourite gems ranged from a roadside yam stall up in the cool hills known as “Top Trelawny” to the elegant Lobster Bowl restaurant and Joe James art gallery housed in a beautiful historic location on the waterfront in Rio Bueno.
The latter emerged the winner for Trelawny, but we believe that as a result of the exposure, all of the culinary gems were winners! The restaurants and food stalls which they visited showed the diversity and creativity of Jamaican food. Roast yam and saltfish were once ‘slave food’ but now people drive through windy and rough roads to get their fix of both.
And many would be willing to drive practically to the endsthe earth or the pepper shrimp wrapped in foil and grilled to perfection, or for the feisty curry chicken served with English-style fries that the enthusiastic foodies found in their travels.
Co-Principals of Jamaica Culinary Tours, Anne and Janet also attended the Foodies Seminar, where we were treated to the innovative thinking and practices of the best in the business. It was great to learn about emerging food clusters built on the principles of cooperation. The owner of one of our favourite jerk spots – Sweetwood, has for example, been doing a great job of pulling together market vendors and organic farmers along with one of the island’s most popular seafood shacks into one space where where you can get your shopping as well as your lyming done over breakfast, lunch or fresh natural juices.
It was also fascinating to learn of the great strides being made by Jamaican and other Caribbean Chefs who are making their mark as far away as Qatar and in various parts of the world. If you’re a coffee lover, you’ll be happy to know that Starbucks is now serving our world-famous Blue Mountain coffee, and that Jamaican company Wallenford Coffee is pulling out all of the stops to make sure that wherever in the world you buy Blue Mountain Coffee, you are actually getting what you pay for, and not a blend or cheap imitation. We left the Foodie Seminar our minds and our appetites well sated with good food and more than good news about all the culinary happenings at home and abroad.
And then it was the big evening – weeks of preparation, cook-off challenges and judging culiminating in the staging of the 17th Food Awards, a grand, elegant affair on the lawns of Devon House (ranked by the way, as the fourth coolest place in the world to eat ice cream!). The coveted awards included Best New Food Item, Best Wine Experience, Chef of the Year, Junior Chef on the Rise, and Restaurant of the Year.
Awards duly presented, it was time to imbibe. There was no way to indulge in even half of all that was on offer, but highlights included pulled chicken sliders with guava sauce, jerk pork belly with vanilla and plantain purée and coconut curry ice cream! The vibes were positively humming in the Best Dressed Chicken booth where some of the island’s top Chefs, joined by visiting Chefs from Britain and the Caribbean, showcased their skills in exciting live culinary demonstrations, concocting creative and delectable dishes which we were only too happy to devour. Once again our palates and our imaginations were completely stimulated and excited, and we were mesmerized at the impressive range of culinary products, services and indeed the talent across our island and our Caribbean region.
The theme for this year’s Awards was “The Stakes are Higher”, and indeed the culinary excellence on display at the Awards and in the lead-up to the Awards leave no doubt that the industry is soaring to higher and higher heights.
So what’s up next for local food enthusiasts and those visiting the island? Well we did mention earlier that both of our newspapers are recognizing the growth in our culinary industry, and so the clock is ticking down to the annual Restaurant Week sponsored by the Jamaica Gleaner. Needless to say, you know we’re already gearing up our appetites to represent those of you who can’t participate – it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it!
Walk Good, Eat Good till next time!