The winners of Jamaica's Oscars of Food: The 2020/2021 Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards
Held last Thursday, July 15, at the AC Hotel by Marriott Kingston, the 2020/2021 semi-virtual Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards, though remarkably different, were still like others before: Glam and full of surprises.
Despite having a very lean budget, Food Awards chair Novia McDonald-Whyte ensured that the two scholarships to hospitality students at the University of Technology, Jamaica were awarded. Cassania McIntyre and Amariah José Taylor were this year's recipients. Both are young people with big creative ideas that will benefit the nation, and who knows, they may be participants at a Food Awards in the near future.
In addition to the chair, the judging was in the capable hands of Mala Morrison, Pauline Edie, Josina Jackson, Adolph Raynor, Maurice Sloley, Professor Lloyd Waller, Patricia Henry, Odette Dixon-Neath, Dr Claudine Lewis, Patrick Smith, Jimmy Joseph, and Oneal Johnson.
The following are the winners for each category:
The award for Best COVID-19 Family Dining Experience went to Summerhouse, Harmony Hall. No surprise there. If Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau have hosted you at their sprawling restaurant, then you'd know that Summerhouse is not just an experience. It's a destination! During the dark days of the pandemic, driving out of the Corporate Area to dine al fresco at Harmony Hall was an effective antidepressant.
The AC Hotel by Marriott Kingston won the Best Wine/Cocktail Experience category. As soon as the doors opened to the splashy hotel located on Lady Musgrave Road, it became the go-to spot for both weekday evening and Friday night drinks. The cocktail and wine list are thoughtfully compiled and during a period when most couldn't travel, heading to the hotel's lobby bar to sip on a glass of wine or a delicious cocktail was an escape.
Chef Brian Lumley was busy recording the event for his followers on Instagram. When his restaurant District 5 at the R Hotel was awarded Best Sunday Spot, he needed to have his name called twice for the reality to set it. Lumley's rooftop oasis is a haven for the young and hip for whom #sundayfunday is almost as important as church. On Sunday, he took to Instagram to share the crowd of fashionable folks cheering when the deejay announced that District 5 had won its category. Chef Lumley should keep the party going all year. It's an award that's well-deserved.
The Solomon Gardner Award for Outstanding Service is named after the former maître d' of the Sugar Mill restaurant at Half Moon, who passed away in 2017 after 53 years of service to Half Moon. This year, the award came home, so to speak. Delmare Restaurant at the Half Moon Hotel bested a group of very exceptional nominees — Stush in the Bush, Sugar Mill Restaurant, Summerhouse, Harmony Hall, Jade Garden, and Butcher Block. The judges had their work cut out for them.
Alexa von Strolley's Tooksie Kay Catering walked away with the Outstanding COVID-19 Caterer Award. von Strolley continued to delight patrons and supporters with creative dishes during the past year despite the challenges. She used the pandemic to improve and fine-tune, and that infinitesimal attention to the details of her business and its growth caught the judges' eyes.
The Best Food Product 2020/2021 category began with 20 products. The judges narrowed it to 10, then Wegman's SVP, Perishables Merchandising Dave Corsi, who was a special guest at the Food Awards Taste & Applaud webinar, chose the four semi-finalists. They were: Nella's Sweet Potato Tendaronis (Onel Williams), Rummy Rum Cake (Allison Perkins), Somm Jamaican Pasta Sauces (Stefany Mathie) and Netty's Farm Turmeric & Ginger Lime Granola Bites (Eileen Dunkley-Shim). Each of the semi-finalists was awarded a Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards plaque because getting to the final four was not only a feat, but also signified to each product that it is already a winner. However, Corsi announced that were he to choose one product for his supermarket chain to carry, it would be Nella's Sweet Potato Tendaronis, making Williams the overall winner.
Speaking of supermarkets, the award for Outstanding Supermarket went to Loshusan. During the pandemic, supermarkets were our lifelines and their dedication to keeping the population fed and safe while shopping will not be forgotten. Each supermarket in the category deserves praise — General Foods; MegaMart, Waterloo Road; Select Grocers Supermarket, Manor Park; Hi-Lo Liguanea; Super Valu Fresh Foods; John R Wong; and Hi-Lo Barbican.
The Norma Shirley Award for Restaurant of the Year went to Delmare at the Half Moon Hotel. The restaurant is proud of serving the best seafood with Italian influences and “seamlessly blends fine dining with one of the Caribbean's most stunning backdrops”.
Four special awards were handed out — the Game-Changer Award, the COVID-19 Comfort Food Award, the Chairman's Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award. Broken Plate shook up the local restaurant scene and made Saturday brunch a thing in Kingston. While some people took to baking during the pandemic, the smart ones went to M10, Crystal Edge, Ms Phang's dumplings for the warm embrace of something hot, moreish, and, yes, comforting. Each establishment was awarded a plaque, and their respective principals, Claudette Tenn, Winsome Hall, and Iris Phang, were there to bask in the glory.
The Chairman's and Lifetime Achievement Awards were both honoured posthumously. Though these struck a sombre chord, they allowed viewers and attendees to relish the awardees' achievements and see how far they have taken the country's food culture. Restaurant Week conceptualiser Stephanie Scott received the Chairman's Award accepted by her daughter-in-law Kaili McDonnough Scott. Shockwaves reverberated throughout the Jamaican diaspora when news of Colin Hylton's sudden death broke. Some are still grieving. From his inventive gateaux to incredible meals, Hylton was the Dalí of flavour. His dear friend Christopher Reckord accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award on his behalf.
Remember when we said there were surprises? How the Food Award judges pulled a surprise on the event's chair shocked most. Whether they swore to the level of pontifical secrecy or just had a new group chat, they saw it fitting to bestow Novia McDonald-Whyte with the Gastronomy Champion Award for the greatest contribution to Jamaica's gastronomy. Cue: thunderous applause. In 2014 McDonald-Whyte received the Order of Distinction (Commander Class) for her service to journalism and the innovative creation of two marquee events of the newspaper — Take Style Out, and, yes, you guessed it, the Food Awards. What McDonald-Whyte has done for the local food industry is, in a word, invaluable.
The 2020/2021 Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards were made possible with the support of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, Sagicor, Rainforest Foods, Phase 3, Best Dressed Chicken, AC Hotel by Marriott Kingston, Select Brands, Future Bakery, and Shikima Hinds Events.