Taste of Jamaica for SOBE festival in Miami

Observer writer

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

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This year's staging of The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) will feature an event on Friday, February 22 called “Taste of Jamaica” which is to be dedicated to Jamaican cuisine.

The festival which runs from February 20 – 24 is hosted in the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties of Florida in the USA and involves over 100 events.

The Jamaican component of SOBEWFF is an initiative of the island's Gastronomy Network (which forms part of the Tourism Linkages Network) and the Jamaica Tourist Board to showcase Jamaican gastronomy to international foodies. It represents the first time Jamaica will be taking over a night at the celebrated festival.

“Taste Of Jamaica” will be an “evening soiree” hosted by chefs Cindy Hutson and her partner Delius Shirley, son of the late, famous Jamaican restaurateur and chef, Norma Shirley.

The two will be partnering with four chefs from Jamaica as well as other chefs from the diaspora to promote Jamaican gastronomy at the upcoming event.

The intention is to go “beyond jerk” for which Jamaica is known all around the world and highlight the island's wider repertoire of both classic and new, ground-breaking cuisine.

Chair of the Gastronomy Network, Nicola Madden-Greig, notes that the profile of Jamaican cuisine has grown in stature over the past several years with food now being ranked in second place among the Top 10 reasons tourists visit Jamaica.

She believes that Jamaica's participation in this year's SOBEWFF represents an investment in the next generation of Jamaican chefs as the festival exposes new elements of local cuisine that many are yet to experience.

“We knew we had to take the movement happening in Jamaican gastronomy to the international market,” stated Madden-Greig. “The decision to take over a night at The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival was strategic and would allow us to position Jamaican cuisine “beyond jerk” to the discerning international foodie. We will also use this event, dubbed 'Taste Of Jamaica', to feature all the food festivals we have on the island and encourage patrons to visit Jamaica for authentic culinary experiences.”

The participating chefs from Jamaica include two of the Gastronomy Network's culinary ambassadors Gariel Ferguson and Colin Hylton, as well as Jonhoi Reid from Zest at The Cliff Hotel in Negril and Patrick Simpson from Walkerswood. The chefs plying their trade within the Jamaican diaspora in the United States are Wilkinson Sejour, Cheryl Chin, Karl Gordon, Andre Fowles, Noam Yemini, Hugh Sinclair and Ryan Cross.

Culinary ambassador Gariel Ferguson expressed his pride at Jamaica being involved in SOBEWFF.

“The festival is the premier event as it relates to the celebration of food and Jamaica's participation is a great move to expose our cuisine and by extension our culture to a diverse and discerning group of global food travellers,” he said. “I have done many food festivals all over the world but flying our Jamaican flag for SOBE is indeed an honour. The great mix of chefs representing the melting pot of our cuisine at SOBE is just the start for bigger and more exciting events in the future.”

Fellow culinary ambassador and owner of the Guilt Trip restaurant in Kingston, Colin Hylton, reflected the same enthusiasm.

“Representing the Rock's (Jamaica's) culinary exponents like how Bolt represents track and field — to the world!” he declared. “I've done the SOBE rodeo before and it never gets old. Seeing your peers bring it helps to raise the bar for all and keeps you on your toes.”

The various calendar of Jamaican festivals to be promoted at SOBEWFF include the Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Festival, the Jamaica Food & Drink Festival and the Jamaican Rum Festival, to name a few. Patrons will be able to take souvenir photos at the “Taste Jamaica” photo booth which will be sponsored by the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival.

Jamaica's director of tourism, Donovan White, sought to emphasise the promotional value of the upcoming show in Florida by providing some context related to the expansion of international travel and how it affects Jamaica. He revealed that last year saw 1.4 billion travellers globally who spent an estimated 3 trillion dollars. This huge international industry presents a challenge for Jamaica to remain relevant and differentiate itself from all other warm weather tourism destinations.

“It is for those reasons why our assets like the authentic taste of Jamaican food is so important,” he explained. “The taste of Jamaica is anchored in the naturally grown herbs and spices which can only be found in Jamaica. It is, however, the expert chefs who over the years have fine-tuned their recipes to guarantee there is always this distinctive consistency in what has become an authentic feature, which makes people choose Jamaica for their vacation. The Jamaica Tourist Board is committed to ensuring that this distinctive asset of our culinary prowess, will always be a feature of the Jamaican product that we use to market tourism around the world.”

SOBEWFF is a star-studded, high-visibility event which, according to the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, attracts over 60,000 guests a year. Its significant size makes it an appropriate vehicle through which Jamaica can use gastronomy to differentiate itself in the travel market, as alluded to by the director of tourism.

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