Thursday, November 01, 2018

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Five-hundred patrons travelled downtown to the Urban Development Corporation's Festival Marketplace on Wednesday, October 25, to eat crisp fare and drink a lot of beer. Crisp, the 2018 Jamaica Food & Drink Festival's fourth-night event, saw eight chefs and caterers keeping a crowd of foodies satiated with crunchy morsels. To quench thirsts, there was Red Stripe and Heineken beers, bottles of WATA at the ready and the extremely popular Select Brands beer garden.

Participating in Crisp were gastronomes Simon Levy, Anna-Kay Tomlinson, Haleem Card, Amanda McCreath, Lisa-Gaye and Kirk Chin, Alex D-Great, Dawn Mitchell and Cayman-based Sara Mair-Doak. After the scanning of tickets, guests were greeted by a colourful wayfinding sign that was helpful in planning where to go first. Since Thursday Food wanted to burn extra calories we decided to popcorn our way around the festival grounds.

Leave it to Simon Levy to offer not one, but an array of smoked meats atop crostini. Guests could have bites made with capicola, pancetta, chorizo and cold-smoked salmon. The cold-smoked salmon was divine and the whipped ricotta, bacon jam and basil micro greens made this small bite deliver a big punch. Amanda McCreath, too, served salmon. However, hers was a peppercorn-cured version which was incorporated into a fried lasagne roll served on roasted garlic and tomato purée.

Still on the seafood train, Haleem Card's bresheh fried calamari was intricate but not precious. The calamari was coated in homemade breadfruit flour and perfectly fried before being nestled on a bed of creamed callaloo and topped with beer foam. The beet gel wasn't just a pretty splatter on the plate. Its earthiness accentuated that of the callaloo and tied the whole plate together. Kirk and Lisa-Gay Chin of Fromage Gourmet Market made a fancy corn dog that had people surreptitiously lingering close to the kitchen door hoping to beat those in line. The Chins' lobster corn dog with lemon dijonnaise was a flawless, grown-up twist on a childhood fave.

A quick stop for a few beers and a rest gave us the energy needed to tackle the red meat dishes. Anna-Kay Tomlinson aka Miss T made “di oxtail bomb”, a crispy sweet potato croquette stuffed with buttery oxtail that was given a lick of sweet Thai chilli sauce before serving. Butcher Block and Steakhouse on the Verandah had chef Alex D-Great in his element. D-Great had patrons ready to make promises that they could not keep, to get a steady supply of seared beef tenderloin tacos. The ginger, mixed cabbage slaw and crispy tortilla really made these mini tacos the baritones of the choir of dishes.

If these beef tacos were the baritones, then Sara Mair-Doak's Korean fried chicken wings were the mezzo-sopranos. Man, did these sing! They were crunchy, salty, sweet, slightly spicy and when paired with the fried peanuts, pickled carrots and jalapeños, resulted in umami-induced euphoria.

Dawn Mitchell can make dessert main-course worthy. She delivered four desserts — deep-fried apple pies, Nutella beignets, pain aux raisins and caramelised vanilla cream puffs. The pâte à choux and crème anglaise combined to make the cream puffs were, in the words of former Great British Bake Off judge Mary Berry, “sheer perfection”. Also offering dessert was Häagen-Dazs whose deep-fried ice cream had people vowing to hit the gym. After the festival, that is.

Crisp was so much fun — the perfect antidote to the hump-day blues.

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