The Jamaica Food and Drink Festival (JFDF) officially opened Thursday last with the Havana Nights-themed Pork Palooza at Hope Botanical Gardens, summoning a motley crew of yardies and foreigners to a fete of flavour, feasting, and fun.
It's year nine for JFDF, and light showers could not dampen the vibe or stop patrons from turning out in droves to celebrate Jamaican gastronomy. Patrons were able to shelter from the intermittent showers under the many tents at the spacious venue. Visa, the event's main partner, certainly had patrons covered with its sprawling canopy, offering them a spot to chill as they made their way through the pork circuit. Festival-goers also frequented Visa's tropical-themed photo booth, which allowed them to mark the night with studio-quality images sent straight to their inboxes.
"We wanted to embrace the Havana Nights theme and offer patrons the opportunity to transport themselves by capturing a little piece of the uniqueness of Cuba in the decor, the music, and the flavours tonight. We want patrons to have a good time tonight. This is why Visa keeps coming back to JFDF, for the love of Jamaican people and our food culture," said Kenesha Thomas, marketing manager for English and Dutch Caribbean countries, Visa
Along with providing all the delectable cuts of pork at the event, Pork Palooza's hosting sponsor, Copperwood Pork, also afforded guests a fiesta within a fiesta at its tent, complete with salsa dancers and catering à la Charissa Skyers of Pink Apron. The CB Foods brand has supplied the JFDF's signature pork event since the inaugural staging, with its mission to educate Jamaicans on the versatility of the world's most consumed meat.
For this year's staging, CB Foods commercial marketing manager, Nicole Hall, shared the brand's appreciation for and commitment to JFDF.
"We are so happy with the partnership and the opportunity to develop Destination Kingston further. With JFDF, we are putting Jamaica's culinary skills on display, and every year the chefs outdo themselves. We want people to experience Jamaica in new and interesting ways. People fly from all over the world to get a taste of Jamaica, and we want to ensure that the experience is a lasting and positive one.
"With this year's theme we wanted to capture the full range of Cuba's flavour profile, and because quite a few of the other chefs are focusing on our Caribbean Passion line, which features fully smoked, fully cooked cured meat, we went more with the fresh cuts, using the tenderloin and the belly to offer three different menu options and three different experiences," Hall stated, adding that with each bite, paired with the music and the ambience, patrons could feel the Caribbean connection.
Coppershot's Marc Chin, aka DJ Chin, also played to the Havana Nights theme with his selection of Spanish and international hits, but the event's entertainment highlight came from Salsamania, a Cubano-Jamaican band that delivered live performances throughout the night.
The freshly formed ensemble, which is still under a year old, featured four Cuban members and three Jamaicans, including Reuben Betty, who teaches drums and percussions at the School of Music at Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. The high-calibre band drew patrons in with its delivery of salsa originals and fiery remixes that hit right at the hips.
The night's entertainment didn't stop there either, as VM Group brought in its own DJ, Jermaine "DJ Will" Williams, for its take on Havana Nights. The tent featured a fiery fruit fountain display and a wine bar offering select labels to further complement the night's offerings.
"As one of the proud sponsors of JFDF Pork Palooza, we wanted to put our own spin on the Havana Nights theme by bringing in salsa dancers to give some instruction to patrons who are interested in learning some new moves, as well as providing some fruit cocktails and wines to diversity the offerings. VM Visa credit card is a lifestyle partner, and we wanted to showcase that tonight with a fusion of culture and entertainment," explained the brand's Assistant Marketing Manager Amanda Dyer.
Budget Car Rentals and Seprod, who provided patrons with assorted sweet treats, also had their own tents at the event to cater to patrons as they explored the plethora of pork-based creations.
Luckily for patrons they were free to sample the night's offerings to their heart's content, as choosing would have been a difficult task with the long list of menu items available at the event. There were a total of 15 chef booths, each offering a different pork-based menu with an equally diverse take on the Spanish-influenced theme. On one side of the venue there were chefs Jamie Allen of Istry, Kara Pessoa of 2K Chefs, Volae Williams of Rok Hotel, Christian Sweeney of Steakhouse on the Verandah, Theo Smith of Great House Caterers, and Jordan Weller of Janga's Soundbar & Grill. The line-up continued on the other side of the venue with chefs Ariel Baker of OMG Cafe; Kerry Lyn of Pastry Lyn Caterers, Haleem Card of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes; Jacqui Tyson of From Thought to Finish; Mark Cole of the Jamaica Pegasus hotel; Fredrick Gayle of Courtleigh Hotel and Suites; Johnoi Reid of Zest @ The Cliff Hotel; and Evrol Ebanks of Rick's Cafe.
The night wouldn't be complete without an equally indulgent drink menu, as JFDF is as much a celebration of Jamaica's liquid gastronomy as it is the food. For this aspect, Worthy Park Select, Absolute Vodka, and Ocean Spray made sure each patron had a refreshing accompaniment to the evening's tasty morsels.
By close of night there was a palpable buzz of satisfaction in the air as patrons shuffled home, marking a successful opening for this year's staging of Jamaica's premium food and drink festival.