The Spanish Court Hotel's kitchen was abuzz Monday last as a revolving door of food characters — a go-getting pastry artisan, the Solomon gundy dip-maker tied to a family recipe, a bubbly pasta-sauce and soup creator — debuted their creations to the Jamaica Observer Food Awards judging panel. The evening also saw Grace Foods presenting a four-course menu, utilising the company's range of products, and JP Tropical Foods showcasing its juicy pineapple that has its origins in Hawaii. A smorgasbord of culinary delights awaited the 11 judges and as usual, they were raring to go.
The Right 'Touch'
Vanessa Harper is not a Thursday Food, newbie, as we profiled her Gourmet Touch product line back in March, but her locally made packets of pasta sauces and soups are entirely new to the judges' palates . Harper, an East African by birth and a diagnostic microbiologist by profession who now calls The Rock home, said she created Gourmet Touch as a natural extension of the passion she found in the kitchen. The budding foodie entrepreneur whose tasty packaged products (the soups serve four persons) retail for under $500 at Loshushan and Sovereign supermarkets, ladelled three soups —a mushroom and sherry soup, a pumpkin and parmesan soup, and a roasted basil and tomato soup — with the mushroom selection scoring the most plaudits. Harper's sauces included a sun-dried tomato pesto served on bow tie pasta, a marinara sauce served on penne pasta; and a quattro formaggi served on linguni pasta. She informed the judges that of the 40 different ingredients used in her creations, 21 of them were locally sourced and bought on weekly trips to Coronation Market. Harper said she is in talks to add her products to the shelves of MegaMart. The good news for Harper last Monday is that her products went over exceedingly well, with the judges offering generous praise to the three soups and three sauces she served up.
Continuing A Family Tradition
For Madeline Bayliss, going into the business of making pickled red herring and a solomon gundy dip was really about following a family tradition started by her father, who she said insisted that someone carry it on. Electing herself the chosen one, Bayliss introduced the judges to her two family recipes, both of which were met with favourable reviews at the judges' table. Bayliss also presented a potato round with a sour cream and pickled red herring served with diced mango on top, as well as a panko crusted bell pepper stuffed with Solomon Gundy spread created by ace caterer Celeste Ritch-Gordon.
With the Grace brand celebrating its 90th anniversary, the Grace Foods team, ably assisted by Chef Karl Thomas in the kitchen, laid out a delectable four-course feast that incorporated a number of new Grace products. Guided by lively, informative presentations from Angela Reid, Grace's promotions and customer services manager, and her coworker Suwannee Stewart, senior brand manager, the judges were served Grace ham on a bed of chilled potato and plaintain salad drizzled with Grace sweet and spicy sauce; a 'sunburst salad' of crispy romaine lettuce topped with Grace's Fresh 'n Ready carrots and peppers, supreme of oranges, toasted sesame seeds and a dressing made of Tropical Rhythms pineapple mango vinaigrette; an excellent soy-based curry chicken sautéed with herbs and spices, stacked with tortilla chips and served with mango chutney, papaya relish and a escallion mayonnaise. The meal closed with glasses of Grace Tropical Rhythms Pineapple mango beverage and satisfied sighs.
Juicy Slice of Life
Sugarloaf and cowboy pineapples may be more recognised varieties of the fruit locally, but if JP Tropical Foods has its way, the company's juicy pineapples, which has its origins in Hawaii, could become a household name too. Kenia Mattis, JP's marketing manager, believes it's only a matter of time. Serving flambéed, diced pieces of the fruit with vanilla ice cream, Mattis informed the judges that the company introduced the pineapple on a small, experimental scale last year, and hopes that by 2013 they will be able to provide a year-round supply.
"I look at my food as art," Alecia James explained midway her presentation of beautifully sculpted and ever-so-delicious pastries to the judges. The St James-based self-titled pastry artisan wowed the room with her sweet confections that were mini works of art. James, who showcased her work at last year's Food Awards, said she has seen substantial traction in clientele since last she appeared before the judging panel. Already this year, she booked high-profile stints at the Shaggy & Friends show at Jamaica House and the Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival in Trelawny. The Ritz-Carlton-trained chef said she has also worked alongside such local culinary industry magnates as Jacqui Tyson and Lorraine Fung, but sees even bigger things in her future. "I try to be as creative as possible and hate to do the same thing twice; so I try to create new pastries and use a lot of local flavours," she added. The diminutive, but super-talented, James said her two-year old company Signature Cakes and Desserts has developed firm footing in the West with Rituals, The Yacht Club, Bellefield Great House and Tryall — all happy customers. She is now looking at making inroads in Kingston but, due to the custom-order nature of her business and the relative short shelf life of her pastries, she is uncertain of exactly how she will cater to the market in the capital city.
Photographer: Jermaine Barnaby