Festival-goers donned their costumes at the seventh annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens on July 23.
Photo by Nat Valentine

It’s bigger than the jerk.

Thousands attended the seventh annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens on July 23. The cultural gathering celebrating Jamaican culture is a staple of the borough for that many guests arrived before the noon event started, said the host of the festival and cook-off judge.

“I thought I got there early but people were already frying dumplings and setting up their booths,” said Chef Wenford Patrick Simpson.

The all-day festival featured music, food from local vendors, plenty of food activities, including the popular cooking competition every year. Defending his title from last year’s match was Mayor Bill DeBlasio who competed against former Miss World Jamaica Lisa Hanna. The mayor cooked up some jerk pork chops, and Hanna served a coconut style pork dish, and won the cook off, according to Simpson. She took home the prize because she was set on what she was cooking, he added.

“I was going back and forth between Hanna and DeBlasio looking to see what they were cooking but Hanna was focusing on what she was doing — she really went to mom zone,” said Simpson. “As I was watching her cook, she knew right away what she was going to cook.”

The contest was judged by the chef who made his first appearance at the event and enjoyed the cultural and familial atmosphere. Simpson said he was humbled by the supportive crowd which quickly took a liking to him.

“My favorite part of the whole day, aside from me enjoying it, was it being my first time there, and being the face of the festival was an honor,” he said.

Reggae artists Morgan Heritage, Barrington Levy, soca singer Alison Hinds, and many others provided the musical entertainment. There was also music performances by folk groups.

“It was the little things that have to do with Jamaica and they made it really fun because I haven’t seen folk dance like that in while and the comedy — it was a beautiful day.”

Simpson said that the event is important for the Diaspora community because it is one of the few chances members get to together and enjoy a day of festivities.

“It went so peaceful and it shows that we can come together and have fun and have a great time,” he said. “When we come together and enjoy a wonderful time, it feels like big barbecue. It’s very important for us to be involved in our heritage.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]

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