Executive Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson
The 7th annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival welcomed over 15,000 guests this past Sunday July 23rd. Patrons from all around New York, the tri-state area and beyond came out to Roy Wilkins Park in Queens, NY to enjoy a full day of the “jerk experience” from a variety of vendors, a delightful culinary pavilion, cultural and mainstage performances, a fun Kidz Zone area and an array of giveaways from a variety of sponsors. Adding to the good vibes of the day, the rain held up despite a predicted storm, making the weather as pleasant as the crowd.
The day kicked off with various activations at the Culinary Pavilion. Hosted by Celebrity Chef Irie Spice of the critically acclaimed television series, “Taste the Islands with Chef Irie” and Food Network’s ‘Cutthroat Kitchen’ and New York’s BB King’s and Highland Ballroom’s Executive Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson, the Cook-Off tent was on fire. The very impressive line-up of talented Chefs participated in friendly banter amongst themselves and the engaged spectators.
Chef Andre Fowles of Miss Lily’s, a two-time Food Network Chopped champion kicked things off with a cooking demo of chicken tostadas, which was later devoured by the attentive audience.
Lisa Hanna, Jamaican Minister of Culture 2012-2016 and Miss World 1993, competed against New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio in a quick-fire challenge with mystery ingredients that included pork chops, breadfruit, granola bars and spinach. While de Blasio named his dish “Ocho Rios Explosion”, Hanna proudly won the challenge with her dish “Goodie” and later shared on the Main Stage that she “did not come from Jamaica to be beat.” She did her parish of St. Ann proud.
Chef Shorne Benjamin won the Celebrity Chef Throw Down against Chef Troy Levy of B.B King’s and The Food Network hit show Cooks vs Cons. Shorne has worked with renowned Master Chef Jean Georges at the popular restaurants ABC Kitchen, Maloney & Porcelli and contemporary restaurant Falai in NYC. Thanks to his jerk liver on a bed of toasted cassava chips, he can now add Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival Celebrity Chef Throw Down Winner to his resume!
Dish Call, a friendly vendor competition allowed local businesses to flaunt their unique dishes. Mr. C’s Jerk Spot took the prize, Damion Catering came in second place and T&G Flavors took third place.
While many patrons were captivated in the Culinary Pavilion, others roamed the Food Court and feasted on tasty delights such as jerk corn, jerk ice cream, fish, chicken, pork and cooled the fiery flavors with fresh coconut water, frozen lemonade and Grace Tropical Rhythms. Long lines were witnessed at Boston Jerk, Yardie’s Restaurant, Mr. C’s Jerk to name a few, as patrons patiently waited to get served.