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Food festival in race against time for World Culinary Awards shortlist

Published:Wednesday | August 31, 2022 | 12:11 AMAinsworth Morris/Staff Reporter
Chef Oji Jaja, the executive culinary artist at the Jamaica Food and Drink Kitchen, helps Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, to prepare parmesan polenta pan-seared salmon at the event’s launch in Barbican on November 18, 2021.
Chef Oji Jaja, the executive culinary artist at the Jamaica Food and Drink Kitchen, helps Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, to prepare parmesan polenta pan-seared salmon at the event’s launch in Barbican on November 18, 2021.

The Jamaica Food and Drink Festival – one of the island’s premier foodie events whose promoters fought endlessly for it to remain afloat annually during the COVID-19 pandemic – has been shortlisted for the international World Culinary Awards 2022 in the category of Caribbean’s Best Culinary Festival.

However, their success in winning the competition is dependent on votes they receive from persons online by midnight Wednesday, August 31, through the website of the organisers of the competitions at https://worldculinaryawards.com/award/caribbean-best-culinary-festival/2022.

The organisers of the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival are now beaming with pride that they have, for another year, been shortlisted for the award.

They are competing for the title of the Caribbean’s Best Culinary Festival against two other countries: The Cayman Islands and Saint-Barthélemy, a French overseas territory in the Leeward Islands.

In 2021, the Jamaica Food & Drink Festival was awarded the World’s Best Culinary Festival and the Caribbean’s Best Culinary Festival after challenging rivals such as Dubai.

Nasma Mohammed-Chin, festival director of the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival, told The Gleaner that reaching the finals for another consecutive year was no easy feat for the organisers of the annual event, which is held in October.

After the pandemic hit in 2020, and the Government imposed restrictions under the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA), organisers got creative in ensuring the festival’s survival. Their brainstorming resulted in the 2020 Jamaica Food and Drink Festival shifting to a safer ‘Experience in a Box’.

“We curated a food and drink experience which was safely delivered to them. Those boxes featured top local chefs and sponsors,” Mohammed-Chin said.

For 2021, their planning not only resulted in the return of the physical staging of the festival, but also the creation and launch of a new business concept, ‘Jamaica Food & Drink Kitchen’ – a multipurpose cooking studio and event space at Progressive Plaza in Barbican.

The November 2021 staging of Jamaica Food & Drink Festival took place there in the form of a 10-day calendar of events with mixology and cooking, with a restricted number of patrons based on the DRMA.

Mohammed-Chin believes the Jamaicans are deserving of having their event among the top three festivals in the Caribbean because of their world-class delivery over the last eight years.

“A big part of what we wanted to do was redefine the gastronomy tourism sector in Jamaica, because we have persons that come in for sun, sea, and sand,” Mohammed-Chin told The Gleaner.

“We’re really known for our music, but we really didn’t have a thriving tourism industry that is around food, and, of course, we know that people are looking around for more experiences.”

She said that the event was initially based on the annual South Beach Food & Wine Festival and the New Orleans Wine and Food Experience experienced years ago by their team.

“We travelled a lot. We did a lot of research, as we knew what the template for a successful festival should be, and we started implementing here,” she said.

With the removal of the DRMA, the success of Jamaica Food and Drink Kitchen has been realised.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett congratulated the Jamaica Food & Drink Festival for again being shortlisted for the World Culinary Awards for 2022.

“We celebrate our island’s melting pot of flavours from various cultural backgrounds, which makes the unique gastronomy experience that Jamaica provides distinguishable across borders and traditions,” Bartlett said.

ainsworth.morris@gleanerjm.com