BY: ALYSSA MAHADEO
Jerk chicken poutine, jerk lobster roll and ackee and saltfish spring rolls, are just a few of the delicious concoctions presented by chefs and food vendors at the 16th annual Jerk Festival held in Toronto this past weekend.
Now in its 16th year, JerkFest has grown to be a staple calendar event in Toronto and draws thousands of visitors each year. Grace JerkFest 2017 presented by TD, dominated the weekend from August 10th-13th at Centennial Park in Etobicoke celebrating jerk cuisine and Caribbean culture with pulsating musical beats, family friendly entertainment and good vibes – one love for all on a gorgeous summer weekend in Toronto.
Established in 2002 by Island Promotions Inc, and taken over by Caribbean Promotions Arts & Culture Inc. a not-for-profit organization, as a need to organize more events to fill the void after the excitement of Caribana. Over the years, JerkFest has meant different things to different people: To the food lovers, it’s all about the tantalizing tastes, mysterious flavours and captivating aroma of the jerk food – chicken, pork, beef, lamb, seafood, vegetables. And no matter how full they are from sampling all the jerk dishes, these serious foodies will not pass up on the added offerings of curried goat, coconut water or conch soup.
Each year JerkFest appeals to families from diverse nationalities to whom wholesome entertainment and fun are essential elements of their lives. These patrons have high disposable incomes, high brand awareness, willingness to try new products and services and great loyalty to quality.
Over the years JerkFest has meant different things to the masses. To those with young kids, JerkFest is the ideal place to release them into the engaging kid’s zone while you relax nearby. Ah, what better way to be “free” of the kids while enjoying spicy jerk food and listening to the likes of Bob Marley.
To the business community, JerkFest is an effective medium to showcase products and services. It’s the ideal time and place for the savvy marketer to connect with a captive multi-cultural audience.
To the community at large, JerkFest, through its mandate to foster community togetherness, is a stage to showcase its young and upcoming talent and a contributor to local charities annually.
JerkFest is one of Toronto’s premier calendar festival, which is annually in the Celebrate Ontario festival & event listing publication.
This year Grace fused food and music to create the ultimate Jerk Food and Music Festival kicking off their four days of festivities aboard the River Gambler for an exclusive meet and greet experience with legendary, platinum record R&B singer Freddie Jackson on August 10th. Passengers were invited to dance the night away under starry skies, on a three hour cruise circling the Toronto harbor, taking in the sights and sounds of the city’s waterfront and spectacular skyline jamming to the sounds of The Unstoppable DJ Navi spinning the best of the 80’s and 90’s R & B, Reggae and Soca.
With delectable dishes by Piranha Catering, featuring Jamaica’s world famous Jerk Chicken and Escovitch Salmon served with Rice & Peas and Vegetables, it was a fun and exciting start to the festival. As a bonus, fifteen lucky cruisers were selected for a special Meet & Greet with another legendary R&B crooner, Brian McKnight on August 11th at the Love and R&B Edition – Men of Soul.
Throughout the weekend patrons were invited to experience a plethora of exciting events like the Grace Foods Experience Tent embarking on a mouth-watering journey of Caribbean Flavors with Chef La-toya Fagon, and Noel Cunningham demonstrating various signature dishes in live workshops.
Festival goers were encouraged to try some of the mouthwatering creations like Ackee and Saltfish Pizza, Fruit in a Fruit and even more exotic samples like Jerk Kangaroo, Jerk Crocodile, and even Jerk Shark.
Contestants pushed their bellies to the limit and challenged their taste buds for a chance to win great prizes Hot and Spicy Jerk Chicken Eating Competition, The Grace -So You Think You Can Jerk Competition and the Drop-A-Six Dominoes Challenge Caribbean Lime style.
Patrons were also welcome to gain special access to the Grace JerkFest VIP Garden Experience where you could mingle with celebrities and enjoy a mouth-watering jerk chicken dinner in a less crowded setting with the best seat in the park, center stage.
Each day’s events were hosted by radio personalities Kerry Lee Crawford of G98.7, Carrie Mullings with VIBE 105.5, with vibes provided by award-winning DJ Unstoppable Jr. Other performers included Jerkfest Performers included headliners of Aug 12th and 13th Maxi Priest and Pinchers alongside Ikaya, Heritage Singers, Dhalia, Comfort, Kirk Diamond, Mighty Mystics, Aventha, Dance Caribe, Rayzalution Band, Level Exodus, Subterranean Rootz and much more Steel Pan, Tassa, singing and dance performances on the TC Cultural Stage.
JerkFest would not be a success without its many sponsors including title sponsor Grace, presenting sponsor TD, corporate sponsors Victoria Mutual, Western Union, Digicel, Red Stripe, Royal Tiger Towel, Niagara Inflatables, grant partners and community affiliates.
JerkFest is an annual festival which takes place around the second weekend in August every year celebrating the world renown jerk cuisine. Its fusion of jerk flavors is definitely something you won’t want to miss! Next year be sure to gather your friends and family, take your carnival spirit and head on down to JERKFEST!