Picante brought the heat for Jamaica Food and Drink Festival (JFDF) 2023 at Hope Gardens on Friday, November 3.
Day two of the four-day food festival was a spice lover's delight, and based on the turnout yet another festival favourite with patrons eager to enjoy expertly seasoned meats, delectable desserts and refreshing cocktails to round out the epicurean experience.
The evening, and indeed the event's special guest chef Cesar Zapata of Miami's acclaimed Phuc Yea was all smiles at his JFDF debut, and shared his enthusiasm with Thursday Food.
"This is my first time in Jamaica, and it's been amazing. You guys have delicious food. I'm super-impressed. I went to this fish shack, and the fish was caught fresh and fried over a wood oven stove. That was incredible. And, of course, the patties. Delicious! Best patties I've ever had," Zapata gushed, detailing the local food he had tried thus far.
For Picante, Zapata catered to the Jamaican palate.
"We wanted to do something similar to what we do back home, but also something that relates to Jamaica. I decided to do something with pork, so we slow-roasted the pork shoulder for about 10 hours with our house rub, a little bit of Scotch bonnet, and our fish sauce, which is traditional to the type of cuisine that we do," Zapata explained.
He wasn't the only top chef in the house. Each year, JFDF corrals some of Jamaica's most talented culinary experts to cater to festival-goers from all over to join in the celebration of Jamaican gastronomy. While day one's Pork Palooza focused on the diversity of pork for its culinary theme, Picante had a wider palate to showcase the power of spices and The Rock's melting pot culture. Patrons were treated to a menu of delights from the culinary creators at the event, who included chefs Samantha George, Jason Daley of Nama's Pasta + Grill, Desserts By Dawn Mitchell, Brian Lumley for CLC Consulting, Kenard Swaby of Terra Nova All-Suite Hotel, Trishauna McMaine of Tracks and Records, and David Wellington from The R Hotel. The chef roster also featured Garfield Seivwright Jr of CrEATe Handcrafted Sauces, Jonathan Simpson representing Jabba's Peppa Swims, Vickram Bhandari of Nirvanna Global, Simon Levy for Roast Specialty Meats, Junior Lowe of Flamin Wok, and Débè-Ann Lange-Chen of Cutting Edge Gourmet by Débè. Walkerswood Caribbean Foods and Rainforest were also present to offer patrons even more delicious options.
According to Chef Gariel Ferguson, who guided patrons through a cooking demonstration at the CB Foods station, Jamaica's global interconnectedness might just be adding some new flavours to the pot.
"People are getting more interested in Asian food... They are seeing things on social media, and want to experience these flavours for themselves," Ferguson stated.
The chef/patron at The Rib Kage Grill Ferguson explained his approach of bringing complexity to his demonstration to show patrons who might be too intimidated to try new things in the kitchen just how easy the steps can be.
"Although we traditionally cook Jamaican, we said, you know what? We can cook anything. There are so many extraordinary things that Jamaicans can do with the ingredients we have here locally," Ferguson said of his decision to demo one of his personal favourites, a decadent Malaysian Roti Canai.
With the help of a volunteer, Ferguson walked patrons through everything from the selection of the ingredients, the role each component plays and, of course, how to prep and execute the dish.
Equally compelling were the evening's cocktail offerings, which came care of Johnnie Walker, CPJ and Ocean Spray. To complement the spice, the mix masters devised a list of fruit-based concoctions, each one impeccably balanced and elegantly garnished.
"Tonight, we are highlighting our three new cocktails to showcase the versatility of the Johnnie Walker brand. We have the cranberry and mint-based Whisky Berry, the apple-based Top Hat and a refreshing, peachy Black Peach. These cocktails will definitely complement the spices tonight," Johnnie Walker brand ambassador and mixologist Brian Broderick explained.
CPJ gave patrons three tequila options made with Teremana Small Batch Tequila and three gin options made with The Botanist Islay Dry Gin.
"CPJ is using organic Jamaican flavours to complement the culinary flavours here tonight — mainly mint, ginger and lime. We are also using some lavender, and we think that these flavours will enhance the spices in the food while also being just delicious on their own," Lorenzo Hall, a mixologist at one of the CPJ tents, said of the offerings at the gin bar.
CPJ's tequila bar also introduced mango and strawberry cocktails. One bold drink, dubbed the Sizzling Strawberry, also featured two muddled jalapeño slices. Suffice it to say patrons didn't back down from the challenge.
As if the delectable fare and invigorating libations weren't enough, Picante also brought the heat with the entertainment. Ryan "DJ Smoke" Williams filled the venue with a slew of Top 40 bops from various eras and genres, and between his sweet selections, the spice now coursing through everyone's system and the revivifying cocktails, it wasn't long before festival goers were dancing up a storm.
Festival goers also enjoyed a fire performance troupe, Pyrofanatics, who wowed with their daring, fire-wielding act. Visa also mixed things up with the set design of its photo booth for Picante, once again tapping Kilroy White and his Saske Lee Production team to deliver studio-quality shots to patrons.
Not to be outdone, NCB went all-out for its tent, serving quality, decadence and class.
"So this is actually our second year partnering with JFDF. It was such a success the last time that we had to come on board again and represent our clients and just be a part of the vibe and the experience once more. We also wanted our tent to reflect the premium service that we offer at NCB. So along with the Prosecco, tonight we are offering chocolate from Chocolate Dreams with a little spicy kick to it," personal banker and designated NCB rep for the evening, Shirika Coward, told Thursday Food.