For the love of food: Port Royal Seafood Festival excites palates
There was much excitement to be had at the recent staging of the Port Royal Seafood Festival. When patrons weren’t having their fill of the free samples available on the grounds, they were supporting local vendors who pulled out all the stops in providing mouthwatering seafood dishes. But for me, the real adventure came when I put down my pen and stepped into the kitchen to compete as, get this, a chef!
Now, I was going up against big names within their respective industries. On the celebrity line-up, local track stars Hansle Parchment and Briana Williams were hoping to bring this culinary race to a photo finish and collect the gold. Then, on the corporate side, bigwigs like Frank James, chief executive officer of GraceKennedy Foods Domestic, and Trevor Johnson, deputy general manager for broadcast services at Television Jamaica, were looking to win the award for best chef. How was I factored into the mix? Mainly as the vibes master to add a bit of spice to the competition.
Never has the lyrics of a song ever resonated with me before like the Last Last hit from Burna Boy, ‘E don cast, last last, na everybody go chop breakfast.’ My relationship with food has always been a great one, but this cooking contest really tested my love for all things culinary. Going in with high hopes, it was exciting to be among the elites and make magic in the kitchen. The aim of the cook-off was to create delicious dishes using Grace products and by the looks of things, the majority chose the brand’s premium mackerel in brine as the star of their plate.
The 110-metre hurdles Olympic gold medallist, Parchment, ran with a seafood medley paired with creamy Irish potatoes. Right next to him, the Olympic champion, Briana Williams, started her race with a dish called the ‘Bullett’, which is curried mackerel rundown with sweet potatoes in coconut milk and pumpkin, fried ripe plantain, alongside vegetables with a vinaigrette dressings.
Behind her, Johnson kept busy serving a multi-course meal that featured cream of pumpkin soup, mackerel patties in a rundown sauce with curried chickpeas and red peas, as well as seasoned quinoa with a salad and cinnamon plantain, served with Grace Tropical Rhythms. To his left, James whipped up the Grace Premium Mackerel Croquettes with a Grace sweet and spicy tomato reduction, along with sautéed asparagus and creamy garlic mashed potatoes.
I, on the other hand, prepared a Grace mackerel rundown spaghetti pasta, with a sautéed shrimp surprise, topped with mackerel steaks, calling the dish ‘Run Dung Di Pasta’.
This savoury showcase really impressed the guest judges, including Celebrity Chef Mazie Miller, Chef Kemoni Johnson and independent judge, Chevon. They eagerly tasted and scored the dishes, considering factors such as taste, creativity, originality, and presentation.
It was far from smooth sailing in the kitchen. My photographer noticed that I was the only chef without an official cooking assistant, aside from the assistant provided. So, I drew for my support team on the sidelines.
Additionally, I had issues with my stove, and there was no immediate assistance available. When it was announced that there were only 16 minutes left in the competition, the water I had placed on the fire from the very beginning to boil my pasta was not bubbling. So, I blew the whistle on this issue, very loudly. A big thank you to James for lending me his stove at the very last minute.
Never have I actually been so happy to cross the finish line especially considering that I was nearly out of the race. Luckily, I was cooking something quick, easy and tasty. It might have been one of the best pastas I’ve ever made, as far as consistency was concerned. But due to time constraints, I may have fallen short in the taste and presentation department. Perhaps a little more all purpose would have gone a far way.
What actually transpired was a culinary case of athlete against athlete and manager versus manager. Williams came third above Parchment and in the end, James finished second while Johnson emerged as the ultimate winner and won the big trophy.
Despite finishing in fifth place, I was the happiest loser. I am grateful because I got to share the kitchen with my mother, who, when my back was against the wall, jumped in as my cooking assistant. Her presence and level-headedness helped me stay calm during those heated moments.
In the words of Sizzla, ‘Simplicity we use to survive’. I was there for a good time and we were all there for the love of food. And you know who did walk away with supermarket items! So, it was a win-win in my book!