SUNNY SKIES AND GOOD VIBES AT THE GRACE JAMAICAN JERK FESTIVAL- Capleton Closes Grace Jerk Festival on A High at the 9th Staging of the event at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens

  All photos by Ajamu Myrie  

Thick clouds of smoke billowed over Roy Wilkins Park in Queens, New York, on Sunday, August 25th, dispersing a sweet pungent aroma through the air. Food vendors busily bustled as they made final preparations as thousands descend through the gates. After weeks of anticipation, postponement due to a “Heat Emergency”, It was time for the 9th staging of the annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival, a celebration of Caribbean food, music, and culture.  

This year had a special “Buzz”, and as the over fifteen hundred patrons entered, they quickly immersed themselves into the various activities throughout the venue. Some headed to corporate row to try their luck and win giveaways from title sponsors Grace Foods, as well as VP Records, Digicel, the Jamaica Tourist Board, Resorts World Casino New York City to name a few. Others head directly to the over thirty food vendors to feast on the specialty of their choice. Vendors such as Jerk City, Yogi’s Jerk, Pine & Ginger were all doing brisk business. A variety of novelty vendors offered bargains to savvy shoppers.

“We were pleased with the turnout, in spite of the weather delay the line-up of artists and attractions was complete and I saw new faces in the crowd,” said Eddy Edwards, CEO of Jamaican Jerk Festival LLC. “Each year we look to expand the range of vendors, in the food stalls, crafts area, and corporate row. It looked like the vendors and patrons were happy with the results we achieved.”  

Activities on stage began with a performance by Asase Yaa Youth Ensamble who wowed the audience early with their presentation of Jamaican folk songs in a tribute to Miss Lou. Blakka Ellis wove humor into a telling tribute to Jamaican culture and the significance of Miss Lou and her place in our history. MC Sharon Gordon expertly delivered bits of Jamaica’s cultural history entertainingly and engagingly, holding the audience’s attention.  

Foodies planted themselves over in the Culinary Pavilion to see Chef Darlene prepare an Orange Glazed Chutney Jerk Shrimp dish. She was amazing and gracious as ever. Next was Chef Troy Levy who prepared an ital dish of Jerk Mur and Aioli Wraps with a Mango Salsa. Everyone loves the charming Chef Troy. Host Chef Irie prepared pimento spiced seared tilefish with sauteed Chinese broccoli, plantain and mango relish over coconut polenta, grace hot sauce drops, Jerk Sea bass with greens and polenta.  

One of the highlights was the Celebrity Chef Throwdown, as Chef Cybille St. Aude was up against last year’s champion Chef Ji Cha. They had to prepare a dish in 30-minutes from a mystery basket containing Peanut brittle, prickly pear, hot dog, soppressata salami, Jamaican spice bun, and Grace Jerk seasoning. Chef Cybille, who named her dish “The New York Mishi”, was judged the winner and walked away with the Dutch Pot Trophy.  

The entertainment on stage was up a notch with Naomi Cowan, who delivered a notable set of reggae standards as well as her hit song “Paradise Plum”. The ladies got wild as Christopher Martin took the stage delivering hit after hit and the surprise, step-out performances with Romain Virgo and D Major was the high point of the day. Bunji Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons brought the crowd to a frenzied flag-waving climax and Shenseea jumped into the audience to get closer to fans. But it was “fireman” Capleton that had the crowd eating out of his hands. His energetic performance had everyone fully engaged until he left the stage at closing. The people loved his performance.  

Under the guidance of MC Nikki Z, the audience was fully engaged with the Grace Patty Eating Contest, where contestants devoured three hot patties in two minutes to walk away with five hundred dollars and a Grace Gift Box. The Grace Jerk Wings dance contest had patrons dropping their best moves as they compete for several prizes.  

Festival coordinator Richard Lue was all, smiles at the end of the day and declared “Next year will be our 10th anniversary in New York and we plan to make it very special. We are already looking into new and exciting features to enhance the festival as we celebrate this milestone.  

About Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival (New York): The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival NY has the unique distinction of being “New York’s Biggest Caribbean Food Festival” delivering an enjoyable experience of the highest quality to patrons as well as a rewarding experience to sponsors. Held annually in Roy Wilkins Park, Queens, New York, the Festival appeals to all ethnicities and key demographics, particularly the vibrant Caribbean communities in the Metro New York market.

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