Picante is the event on the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival (JFDF) roster that takes you through a world of hot, zesty flavours.
It was held last Friday night at The Ruins, Mona Visitors’ Lodge from 7-11pm.
Suga arrived early, at about 7:20pm to beat the lines and made her rounds.
Coca Cola had tasty cocktails upon entry. They had a creamy cocktail that suited the ladies and a White Rum mix that the gentlemen like my husband, Randy enjoyed.
Select Brands had sweet wines to cool down the spice and a refreshing Stoli Blueberi Lemonade that was the talk of many patrons for the night.
By the entrance, there was National’s Scotch Bonnet Butter Cheddar Popcorn stand with Popcorn bags by Chef Christian Sweeney. It was finished in no time. As usual, he created delightful bites to please the crowd.
Chef Sweeney also had a menu of Spicy Chicken with Grilled Corn and Chick Peas Salsa. Thankfully it tasted better than it looked. Congrats Chef Sweeney, it was Picante. For those who returned later in the night like myself, Pan-seared Tuna was served instead of the Chicken with the Chick Peas Salsa and it was just as delightful.
Chef Shea Stewart had a menu of spiced Snapper with a Jalapeño, Chili and Scotch Bonnet infused Risotto, however the outcome was mild. The presentation was poor, but it was quite tasty nonetheless.
Chef Dennis McIntosh did a tasty seafood dish, but it was mild as well.
Broken Plate’s dish was delicious and flavourful with a touch of spice, but I was still waiting on another dish to make me say, ‘Picante!’.
Disappointing booths for the Night
Before I get to outstanding booths for the night, the majority of Chefs produced impressive dishes. However, there were two disappointing dishes for me. One was definitely worse than the other.
Chef Jonhoi Reid from the renowned Cliff Hotel in Negril was very personable, but had a sloppy display with Pork that was difficult to chew. I was excited to see Pork stacked on Pork, but the outcome was disappointing. The Black Bean Corn Yuca Cake didn’t save the dish for me, but was quite palatable beneath it all.
I observed that they were serving persons up to 11:20pm, when most Chefs left or packed up. Having so much food left may underscore my thoughts.
Then there was Walkerswood featuring Guest Chef from overseas, Patrick Simpson and UTECH. Sad to say, but it was the worst of the night. The Peppa Shrimp with Curried Vegetable Succotash was spicy a.k.a Picante, but the Pulled Jerk Chicken was terrible. Perhaps, Chef Simpson is unfamiliar with Jamaican sauces, but that sauce did not complement the Pulled Jerk Chicken well at all. It wasn’t spicy and it overpowered it completely.
Winners of the Night for Suga!
Suga had an overall winner, but there wasn’t only one winner for me, there were five Chefs who absolutely brought it to Picante!
Oji Jaja! Best Shrimp of the Night
Chef Oji Jaja had Seared Scallops, but the hit with most patrons was the Seared Shrimp with roasted pepper Scotch Bonnet sauce and Micro Basil. It wasn’t spicy, but was the best Shrimp of the night for Suga.
Spiciest dish of the Night!
The spiciest dish of the night hands down went to Chef George Matthewsof Summertime Villa (Silver Sands, Trelawny; also cooks at Tryall). I couldn’t even say or scream Picante. My running eyes and nose said it all. Mission accomplished Chef Matthews.
Culinary Showman of the Night
Chef Mark Cole from The Jamaica Pegasus cooked with a lot of flare, literally. He cooked two dishes, including a stuffed spicy Potato, but he had one of the two longest lines of the night for his Picante style Salmon Hash. It’s jalapeno salsa made you say, Picante and it was delish! Bravo.
Chef Mark Cole’s Menu:
The Best Dish at Picante
For the Second year in a row, Stush in the Bush wins at Picante for Suga. We all know you can’t help but love Chris and Lisa Binns and the unique, savoury, delightful food they consistently produce, but without bias, although Chef Mark Cole came close, their dish was the best overall at Picante. Their dish made you hot and cooled you down at the same time with pickled watermelon radishes and pickled cucumbers.
Snaps for making Vegetarian look good! There were so many flavours and textures on one plate. Absolute perfection. Stush in the Bush showed up once again. Congratulations and Well done.
Drinks and Desserts!
Other than more drinks provided by the Appleton Estate Bar, desserts provided were a great way to cool off the taste buds.
Sagicor’s booth with Chef Rebecca Karram had sweet and spicy treats. She did well. I enjoyed all of her desserts. The Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookie with a Chai Spiced Milk Shot was a crowd fave.
Wisynco’s Haagen Dazs Ice Cream booth was buzzing all night with patrons and when the night was over, they had brawta. They served one item from their menu at different points in the night. The items provided an added crunchy texture to the ice cream, with a touch of spice too.
Kudos to the organizers and sponsors of Jamaica Food and Drink Festival. ALL events were sold out and from what I heard, patrons enjoyed the majority of the events. Persons were disappointed with the smallest event, Crisp because it had less Chefs.
Jamaicans are a fickle bunch. So after a few successful stagings, I think that JFDF should change things up a bit, and replace Crisp with Seafood, perhaps call it Sea Breeze. It could be by Port Royal for a change of scenery or even in Portland or Ocho Rios. The event has been staged in Kingston for some time, but it is Jamaica Food and Drink Festival.
Looking forward to another great year!
By: Gabrielle Burgess
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Suga brought you the low down for Crisp at The Gardens, Jamaica Pegasus ($5000 All Inclusive) and Picante ($7500 All Inclusive) at The Ruins, UWI Mona’s Visitor’s Lodge, so how were the other JFDF events? Suga Bears and Suga Daddies reported!
Most persons like to get bad news out of the way first. The events with the highest price tags were not that impressive for some patrons. That is, Vintage for $12000JMD all-inclusive and Brunch at the Gallery for $20000JMD/$150USD all-inclusive.
Meals at Vintage at the Manor in Jack’s Hill were described as basic and a low standard for Ortanique on the Mile, one of the restaurants in Florida that was represented by Owner Cynthia Hutson. Suga Bears enjoyed the view and Dessert though.
Brunch at the Gallery
Brunch at the National Gallery, Downtown Kingston presented by Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau was decorated beautifully by Tai Flora and had a sufficient selection of Wines by Select Brands, but the service of food was slow and it arrived to tables cold. The Brunch was from 11am to 4pm and after a long day, patrons were leaving at 4pm and Dessert was just being served. Should the blame go on the Event Planner, the Chefs or both? It was stated that the execution was poor.
The Presentation of some of the meals were also quite sloppy to say the least.
Did the Incredible Hulk have an accident here?! I was in disbelief and gathered that this was the consensus amongst most tables. This looked nothing like the neatly displayed dish on the Event’s social media page. Cold food, slow service and poor, unappetizing presentation is unacceptable for $20,000JMD. I believe things can be shaken up next year. There are so many other talented, efficient Chefs around and I understand the ambience of The National Gallery, but a change in venue could be considered as well.
Kudus to award-winning baker, Nadine Burie that probably saved both events. Her desserts are offered at Cafe Blue.
Setting bad news aside, persons fully enjoyed Meet Street and the Market in Downtown, Kingston ($500JMD entry)last Saturday. A patron said she did not know that Downtown could be so nice. The set up and atmosphere was phenomenal and the vendors outdid themselves.
Pork Palooza ($6500JMD All Inclusive) at Palm Drive, Hope Gardens that kicked things off for the festival on the Saturday the week before was a hit. The event is usually the favourite for Patrons. Jamaicans love their Pork! It wasn’t the unanimous favourite this year though.
Which event took JFDF 2017?!
Close call! It has been narrowed down to the new event, Chop Stix ($5000JMD All Inclusive) held at Zen Lawn, Hope Zoo last Wednesday that featured fare from the far East and the zesty, Picante!
Based on Food, Weather and Vibe, Chop Stix gets the edge. Picante had the on and off rain, which was uncontrollable with provisions put in place, but Jamaicans love a new event.
The Chefs, Caterers and Restaurants delivered at Chop Stix! Here was the Menu if you missed it. Chop Stix can’t be missed next year!
So what’s next for my Foodies? Restaurant Week!
Yes, I know Restaurant Week has lost its steam. Marketing has been ongoing but should be revised, including the selection of Ambassadors. JFDF being so close to Restaurant Week definitely overshadowed it.
Menus for Restaurants are more of the same, but it makes your choices that much easier. The good ones will pop out at you. So that means you may need to make reservations quickly or maybe not, because places I called yesterday that are normally booked out weeks in advance seemed to have quite a bit of space left.
For now, I am leaving you with my recommendations for the Epicurean and Delectable Categories. Here you go!
Epicurean ($4300 +tax +gratuity +beverages)
> The Terra Nova All Suite Hotel in Kingston.
Despite inconsistencies in service and quality throughout the year, they have managed to keep a good reputation for Restaurant Week so far.
Sidenote: I do not think any Restaurant in Market Place should be placed in the Epicurean Category. The venue is far too casual and a long wait is usually expected.
Out of town? Marguerites by the Sea, Montego Bay. You should expect a spectacular dinner and service with a seaside or picturesque garden view.
There are some other reputable Restaurants listed, but the lack of creativity with their Menus were the deal breakers.
Delectable ($3800JMD +GCT +gratuity +beverages)
> Fromage Bistro on Hillcrest Avenue in Kingston.
Nirvanna Indian Cuisine, Centro-Courtyard by the Marriott and Black Orchid Restaurant at Eden Gardens would be secondary choices.
In the other city? Both options from Mobay are primary choices – Mystic Thai and The Houseboat Grill. So persons can choose between the two based on the Cuisine desired.
***Stay tuned for more Restaurant Week choices from Suga Lifestyle.***
By: Gabrielle Burgess
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I grabbed a tasty ‘Coketail’ on the way in to Picante last Friday night and stopped by Walkerswood featuring Alexa Von Strolley. Her Coconut milk, Mint and Cucumber Granita pleased the palate. Her Spicy Pork Belly with Chinese Pancake was indeed spicy. I enjoyed it. It didn’t look like the Curried Arancini with Fried Thai Basil Shrimp and Spicy Carrot salsa was ready though, so I missed out on that one.
Chef Andre Fowles was my first stop inside the main area. I was excited to see what the famous Chef had to offer. He is the first Jamaican dubbed two-time ‘Chopped’ Champion. He is also Chef de Cuisine at the renowned Miss Lily’s in New York.
He is famous for Jamaican Fusions and he demonstrated that last Friday night at Picante. Chef Fowles served up a juicy, well seasoned Oxtail mole with ‘Tun Caanmeal’ Churros. He was surprised that I wanted Pork. I think he thought the ladies were watching their weight. But he had no idea who he was talking to. I told him to give me the ‘Picante Pork Belly’ stat. It came with Scotch Bonnet Avocado crème. It was spicy but it didn’t make me scream, Picante. I enjoyed all the flavours resonating from the dish though, a mix of both sweet and spicy and I felt honoured to have his food.
Charissa Henry of Pink Apron Ja, who has been on the circuit for about three years had a lot going on, maybe too much. Her food came with instructions and a paper bag to shake it all up in. Her ‘Blouse and Skirt Swimz’ consisted of Jam-Asian Salt and Pepper Shrimp served with Nitrogen smashed, Chai Sweet Potatoes. I thought the Pepper Shrimp would have been spicy, but they weren’t. The entire concept was creative, but I don’t think the ‘shake-up brown paper bag’ to eat out of was suitable for a casually elegant event. Great job with the Nitrogen smashed, Chai Sweet Potatoes though. That had a uniquely satisfying taste and texture and definitely displayed thinking outside the box.
Allison Porter-Smalling a.k.a Chef Alli P, foodie turned homegrown Chef turned Cuisine artist, a newbie in the industry, peaked my interest. But her Beef Skirt topped with Watermelon Salsa and Scallion Aioli was disappointingly bland. No wonder there was no line. Points for presentation though.
If you were wondering which station had a line the entire night, that was Stush in the Bush’s Chris and Lisa Binns at work! The King and Queen of a unique farm to table experience including vegan delights, fiya grilled pizzas, homemade sauces, butters and preservatives.
Their long line wasn’t because they were moving slowly either. Even their friends pitched in to help them serve. When the rain relieved other tents from lines, persons still stood in the rain so they didn’t lose their spot in the line for Stush in the Bush! What were they giving these people?
I can’t believe it wasn’t Chicken! It was spicy Cauliflower ‘Chicken’ Wings and Mustard Greens with liquid STUSH Blow Fyah Sauce and Grilled Corn with a Scotch Bonnet Cashew Cream, Cilantro and Lime. Divine! Definitely Picante and even though I tried my best not to choose my faves, Stush in the Bush as the Winning station for the night, I cannot deny them what was earned. Bravo. Hi Five. Rain Dance.
Persons in the line that were clueless about Stush in the Bush from Priory, St. Ann, were surely brought up to speed by me while waiting. After the fact, when I checked on one of the ladies indulging in her Grilled Corn, her reaction was ‘Yes. Sooo good. I have to go to their place.’
Simon Levy, known for his brand, Roast, is the Chef that provides artisan meats to foodies. His Smoked Paprika Pork Belly was tender, but wasn’t anything to keep talking about. However, those Scotch Bonnet Margarita Shots were a hit! Picante!
Oji Jaja’s Coconut Lime Ceviche with Poached Shrimp pleased but didn’t tantalize the palate. I appreciated the exquisite presentation and variety in flavour, but it needed some zest to go with the theme of the night.
Fromage Gourmet Market/Brasserie’s Lisa Chin had some tasty Habanero Shrimp Cakes with truffle Corn Béchamel.
Colin Hylton, one of THE most popular consultancy Chefs in Jamaica and a veteran in the industry for 30 years, familiarly known for his Restaurant that was Guilt Trip, made us scream Picante. That round of Beef that I had when he said he was almost out of food was tough as rocks though. Where did he get that meat?! Anyhow, that sauce was finger-licking and hot!
I had low expectations for Alexx Antaeus of Opa Greek Cuisine. I didn’t even join his line. My husband, Randy decided to still give him a try, bringing back a plate full of food that he hardly touched. I gave him the ‘I told you so’ look and gave his Greek Herb Jerked Chicken, Spicy Beef, Eggplant and Béchamel Moussaka a try. ‘Meh’. It lacked seasoning, flavour and spice.
I was told I needed to head over to Jacqui Tyson. Jacqui is of course an icon in the Culinary industry, of which she has been a part of for the past 20 years. But as I stabilised the contents of my stomach below ‘full buck’, I tried to visit Chefs who I have never tried before. Her tent was also very crowded when I arrived. I was happy to still have space! I made it over to her tent at about 11pm, where there was still a line close towards the end of the night. My husband confirmed I missed her Picante! He visited earlier in the night and said her line was long but it moved quickly.
I had her well textured, Salmon Lollipop marinated in Olive oil, Tarragon and Garlic, grilled with three Béarnaise pepper (Scotch bonnet, Jalapeno and Mexican dried Chili) that was delish. I missed out on the handmade aged Appleton rum caviar that was sprinkled on top. What a calamity.
I took a break, missing out on Chef Christian Sweeney’s delights and passed on Desserts by KukUp Creations.
I then made the wise choice of leaving dessert for the end of the night. I visited Chocolatier Michelle Smith of Chocolate Dreams. What a treat! The entire spread of Hot Chocolate, Truffles, Toffees and Brownies was delicious. We ended the night saying Picante. Those Crunchy Scotch Bonnet Toffees were fire! Well done Michelle.
Picante was a fun, spectacular event. There was good music and I appreciated the availability of my choice of premium liquor up to 11pm and the fact that the rain was not continuous throughout the night. It actually seemed fitting for the event. Everytime a station heated us up like Stush in the Bush or Simon Levy’s Scotch Bonnet Margarita shots, there was a cool foreign-like breeze according to my friend Tiffany and a drizzle of rain. The event was equipped with a huge tent in the middle to shelter persons. We had top of the line options to pick, choose and refuse from. When the Big Man up above thought we were bordering on gluttony a bit after 11pm, a downpour of rain came down to wash away our gastronomical sins and in turn concluded Picante! #SugaEndorsed
By: Gabrielle Burgess
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