To some a night out savoring the flavors of Jamaica at the prestigious James Beard House in New York could be considered downright patriotic. Driving 300 miles round trip for dinner might seem a tad extreme to others. For this Caribbean Chef/ Writer attending such a unique event at this American culinary institution seemed almost like a professional obligation. Having career aspirations that include a James Beard Award meant attending this event could only serve as inspiration. The fact that 2 of the featured chefs Noel Cunnningham and Hugh ‘Chef Irie’ Sinclair are good friends made it personal.
So. After a 3 hour drive I settled into my room, showered and set off for dinner. I blame NY parking for my missing much of the first 2 courses including an up close preview of Appleton Estate’s: Joy Spence Experience. Unlike so many Jamaican happenings this was a well choreographed event and everything was served on time but I digress… Joy Spence is the 1st female to hold the distinction of Master Blender and one of the ‘Faces of Jamaican culture. To watch her do her thing up close from my perch at the ‘Chef’s Table’ would have been an honor.
Like the good host that he is Noel had a few of his perfectly scrumptious Ackee & Saltfish Won-Ton set aside for latecomers to sample. I have already put in my request for his Roasted Pumpkin Coconut Bisque. I still can’t decide whether I enjoyed the frothy coconut foam on top or the crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds at the bottom more. I missed cocktail hour but I did get to sample the one of very spirited Appleton Estates cocktail that was served. I would have sampled another but I needed to remain on my best behavior so I refrained. That and the fact that there was a serving of wine served with each course. I was definitely feeling Irie & Mello by night’s end. After the Canapes & Cocktails came the fish course. I think most of the 100 or so people who enjoyed dinner that night would agree that Robin Lim Lumsden’s Snapper en Papillote perfectly captured the flavors of Jamaica.
The rest of the evening featured delicious dishes like the Rum Barrel Pork Belly from renowned Jamaican Chef Gariel Ferguson. If the sweet velvety soft morsels of succulent BBQ pork is anything to judge by Chef Ferguson definitely deserves his reputation as a Pork Master. Chef Irie, our official host for the evening was his usual charming self as he introduced each dish. His own Roasted Masala Spiced Goat Chops hinted at the Indian influences on Jamaican cuisine.
The final course of the night, chef Colin Hylton’s “Sweet Nyammins” was indeed a happy ending.
At the end of the night as I passed Robin Lim Lumsden her on the steps I stopped to commend her on producing the most delicious dish of the night (wrapped in parchment, the snapper fillet was cooked to a perfect texture. It was bathed in a perfectly spiced coconutty run dung sauce) She smiled clutched her cookbook, gave me a warm friendly smile and said. “Aye mi dear. we dweet fi the love not fi the like” and she was right. I had come for love of Jamaican food and enjoyed every moment with sweet savour.