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By Howard Campbell–

Mario Bignal of Boston, Portland, tends to a grill of jerk pork at the Boston jerk tent, where the authentic Jamaican Jerk flavor is offered to thousands of patrons who flock to Roy Wilkins Park each July for a day of food, family and fun—.

AFTER living in New York City for two years, Kingston-born Eddy Edwards moved to sunny South Florida in 1981. He was in The Big Apple long enough, however, to see the emergence of Jamaican jerked foods.

Edwards is currently preparing for the fourth annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival. A joint production with VP Records, it takes place on July 20 at Roy Wilkins Park in Queens, New York.

According to Edwards, who also promotes the annual Jamaican Jerk Festival in South Florida, the New York show has grown significantly.

The 2013 instalment was particularly satisfying. He estimates it drew 16,000 patrons, including current mayor of New York City, Bill De Blasio, who was running for office at the time.

“Last year’s Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival really resonated with the New York audience and the festival who feasted on a variety of jerk and Caribbean cuisine, as well as enjoyed the entertainment,” Edwards told the Observer. “The festival is family-friendly, so there is something for every member of the family to enjoy; from the traditional and folk presentations on the cultural stage, to the cooking demonstrations and competitions.”

Eddy Edwards

Eddy Edwards

The Jamaican community in New York City’s largest boroughs (Brooklyn, Bronx and Queens) was massive long before Edwards migrated to the United States.

But, while reggae and later dancehall quickly became a hit among Americans in NYC, it was not until the 1990s that Jamaican food, including jerk, won over non-West Indians.

“The restaurant business in New York has grown rapidly, and with that jerk cuisine also saw an increase in popularity. More and more Americans were introduced to the music and food of Jamaica through various interactions with its people or as they travelled to the island as visitors,” Edwards explained.

“As a result, the market for jerk has grown beyond just the core Jamaican and Caribbean community, you now find variations of jerk on menus in posh mainstream restaurants created by renowned chefs,” he added.

As CEO of Jamaican Jerk Festival USA Inc, Edwards has run the Jamaican Jerk Festival in Pembroke Pines, Florida, since 2000. He says there is not much difference with the New York show in terms of marketing.

“The bulk of the marketing is to the core target, which is the Caribbean community, but there is also an outreach to mainstream markets as we feel that the jerk cuisine and reggae music has the capacity to cross ethnic and cultural boundaries,” he said.

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