For one week, Kingston revels in gluttony. The Jamaica Food and Drink Festival is in its third year in Jamaica’s capital. Unlike other stationary food festivals, this week-long festival spreads out across different locations throughout the city with themed nightly events. There is an exquisite brunch inside the National Gallery, a food truck gathering in the business district and dining by the waterfront. The Food and Drink Festival covers street food to multiple course degustation wine courses. The trough bearing heavy rains over the island did not deter gourmands from satisfying their large appetites.
This is an urban Jamaican experience steeped in food. No sand and beach on display. Kingston’s artful, creative edge with its rustic chicness is highlighted. Jamaican food is a cultural cornucopia of influences from the Chinese, Indian, African and the Middle East. Local, homegrown chefs take control of seven themed nightly events; Pork Palooza, Chopstix, Crisp, Vintage, Picante, Meet the Street and West India Brunch at the National Gallery.
This writer was able to visit five of the seven nightly events.
Pork Palooza at Hope Gardens
Dubbed, “Everything’s swine” and an ode to pork lovers, the night saw ten pork masters vie for the Top Hog prize. Dale Delisser’s crispy roast pork and bok choi salad walked away with the night’s honors. The beverages were sweet to accompany some of the fiery pork dishes. The saccharine Stoli mule was a more classic vodka cocktail, infusing vodka with local ginger beer.
Vintage The Manor Jack’s Hill
Wines from Barton and Guestier in the Bordeaux region paired beautifully with headline chefs Lij Heron, executive sous chef of Hilton Aruba, and award-winning restauranteur Cynthia Hutson’s seven course degustation menu.
Hutson says, “Jamaican cuisine goes further than jerk chicken and Bob Marley.” Heron contends that Jamaica doesn’t offer just reggae music and athletes, but a vibrant culinary scene.
Under the tent, tablescapes of white wooden boxes filled with fern and baby’s breath under a majestic flower leaf chandelier. In the distance, Kingston’s lights gleamed like diamonds on a dark blanket. The night’s theme was Cuisine of the Sun and strong Jamaican flavors ran through every course. Heron’s amuse bouche of perfectly poached pepper shrimp with cooling cucumber sheet and prawn crackers was a delightful twist on the popular street snack.
Hutson’s pan-roasted snapper with green banana mash and Caribbean nage (silky broth of pumpkin, yam okra, tomato) harkened patrons to Hellshire beach for an authentic seaside treat.
Patissier, Nadine Hoballh-Burie curated a journey on a plate with a chocolate mousse entremet of chocolate streusel, passion fruit coulis, poached praline cream, and a pineapple infusion tarte with lemongrass and vanilla cream.
Picante at Ruins a University of the West Indies
Jamaican chef and two-time Chopped champion, Andre Fowles stood alongside ten of his culinary contemporaries. The night had a few standout dishes, namely Fowles’ oxtail mole with cornmeal churros and Picante pork belly with scotch bonnet avocado cream.
Jacqui Tyson served delectably moist salmon with tarragon and garlic with three Béarnaise peppers (scotch bonnet, Mexican, jalapeno) Sweet heat ruled the night.
West India Table Brunch at the Gallery
What is better than a food and art pairing? The National Gallery houses the largest collection of art in the Caribbean, in this setting the Rousseau sisters, hosted a family-style brunch with all the Jamaican trimmings. Banana fritters, saltfish ceviche, grilled jerk sausage, crispy corn pork, and pumpkin pancakes led the way for a multitude of dishes.
The hours stretched languidly as diners enjoyed platefuls of headliners coconut tempura mahi-mahi, char grilled rack of lamb, charred smoked pork loin, and grilled beef tenderloin. The supporting acts were just as strong as the leading characters; mint salsa verde, garlic confit, mushroom and red wine ragout, piccalilli and sorrel marmalade were memorable on the palate.
Meet Street and Market Waterfront
Downtown Kingston was the perfect setting for this foodie family event. International and Jamaican fare co-mingled in jellies, peppers, and brittle at the market. Food trucks shined with dynamite dishes balancing in on palms.
Here, the full gamut of Jamaican cultural food influences shined with quirky twists, like ackee and saltfish samosas, oyster ginger garlic crabs, guava glazed turkey necks, jerk chicken paella and red velvet waffles.