Jamaican cuisine stands side-by-side with the nation’s other cultural pillars, such as reggae, dancehall, and athletics. When it comes to Jamaican food, of course, jerk is king. And, when it comes to the celebration of all things jerk, the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival tops the list. This year’s festival, which will be held Sunday, November 13 in Miramar, Floridawill commemorate the event’s 20th anniversary.
To honor that milestone, here are 20 facts about the most robust jerk celebration in the USA, the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival.
- The event has grown to multiple locations.
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- It’s the biggest event of its kind.
By far, the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival is the biggest Jamaican food festival on US shores.
- Only COVID-19 could stop it.
Despite celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, the Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival began in 2001, but two years were lost to the novel COVID-19 pandemic.
- The festival has grown exponentially.
The festival started with only seven food vendors and 4000 attendees, but in its peak years, it hit 35 vendors and 25,000 attendees.
- The team is “likkle but tallawah.”
The base team is only five people deep, including: Abdul Muhsin, chairman of the board and technical director; Bridget Provost-Edwards, cultural artistic director; June Minto, culinary creative director; Richard Elcock, operations director; C. “Eddy” Edwards, CEO, sales marketing director.
- The term “jerk” can have more than one meaning.
According to the festival’s team, jerk as a stand-alone term, can refer to either how meat is prepared, or the specific seasoning blend used on the meat.
- Jerk seasoning includes familiar herbs and spices.
A traditional jerk seasoning blend consists of scotch bonnet peppers, scallions, pimento (allspice), ginger, thyme, and cinnamon.
- Jerk is a Jamaican invention.
Jerk cooking is the greatest fusion of native Taino culture with African preparation styles. Indigenous Tainos taught the Jamaican maroons how to preserve meat with the available spices on the island. The festival celebrates this rich cultural heritage of jerk.
- Jerk has a history of guerrilla cooking.
As festival organizers put it, the method of preparing jerk was born out of necessity. Jerked meats were once cooked underground or in holes to hide the smoke produced, allowing the maroons to prepare meals without raising the awareness of their English oppressors.
- Jerk is great food on the go.
Due to its blend of seasoning and method of preparation, jerked meats have a long shelf life, which made it perfect for those on the run from the English, back in the day.
- Not all wood is equal when it comes to making jerk.
The festival’s team notes that it’s not authentic jerk, and won’t have the real, full jerk flavor, unless it’s done over pimento wood.
- The event is supported by the international king of jerk.
Every year, the event’s title sponsor, Grace Foods, sells almost three million jars of jerk seasoning globally. Grace is Jamaica’s largest manufacturer and exporter of Jamaican food products.
- The event is more than just food, it’s also a show.
The Blue Glaze Mento band was one of the first musical acts to perform at the festival. According to the festival team, food and music are inseparable in Jamaican culture, so even though it’s a food festival first, music will always be included.
- There will be music for all ages.
A who’s who of musical acts has graced the festival’s stage over the years, including Shaggy, Byron Lee & The Dragonaires, Yellow Man, Sizzla, Capleton, and Shenseea. Performing this year are Tarrus Riley, Christopher Martin, and Romain Virgo together tune-fi-tune, Baby Cham, and his all-female band, plus the sizzling sounds of DJ Richie-D, Supa Twitch and House Arrest with a tribute to 90s Dance hall. There will be a few surprise appearances, as well.
- You can expect cultural icons too.
Legendary cultural icons will make their way to this year’s staging of the festival, including thespian and entertainer Oliver Samuels, and legendary playwright and actor Owen “Blakka” Ellis.
- Jerking is all-inclusive.
Whole chicken and pork are the conventional offerings at most jerk stops, but this festival is not your typical stop. Jerked fish, lobster, tacos, corn, and even soup are offered regularly. Recently, vegan options have also been added to the festival.
- There will even be Jerk Ice Cream.
This may blow your mind, but apparently Jerk Ice Cream was invented for the festival and has been a hit ever since it made its debut.
- The featured chefs are incredible.
At the Culinary Pavilion chefs are each given a mystery basket and are made to prepare a jerk dish from surprise ingredients. It’s one of the highlights of the show.
- The festival is also tech savvy.
The festival is exploring innovative technology in the form of a Jerk Festival App and NFTs.
- It’s all happening on November 13.
Experience for yourself the greatest celebration of Jamaican cuisine in North America. This year’s Florida edition is going to pull out all the stops for the festival’s 20th anniversary. There will be more vendors, more capacity, and some of the best musical acts.