D.C. Jerk Festival Moves to RFK for Caribbean Heritage Month

A local chef does his thing. (Courtesy photo)

Sunday is Father’s Day, and everyone knows dads love to grill. But what if Dad could get a special Father’s Day gift of grilled goodness without a face full of heat and smoke?

Problem solved: the DC Jerk Festival is back on Father’s Day, with dozens of chefs manning the grills.

The DC Jerk Festival is back after resounding success last year on Pennsylvania Avenue. This time the outdoor, all-day food and music fest will set up at RFK Stadium’s Festival Lawn at Lot 6, making it more like the authentic Caribbean festivals in the islands.

“The move to RFK Stadium allows us to deliver a much better patron experience and overcome the challenges we faced last year on Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Eddy Edwards, CEO of the Jamaican Jerk Festival USA. “There is more space to accommodate extra features such as an upscale VIP area, expand the Kidz Zone and present an event layout similar to the New York and Florida festivals.”

The DC Jerk Festival also moves into the void left by the demise of DC Carnival, once the city’s premier Caribbean festival, also held in June during Caribbean Heritage Month.

Like DC Carnival, music is a major part of the Jerk Festival. This year, reggae stars Tarrus Riley, Queen Ifrica and Romain Virgo will bring the irie vibes of Jamaica to the main stage, joined by soca music’s royal couple, Bunji Garlin and Fay-Ann Lyons. Comedian Raggashanti, DJ G-Nice and DJS from A-blazin Radio will keep the audience entertained in between.

But the real star of the DC Jerk Festival is, of course, the jerk. This genuine Jamaican method of grilling owes its popularity to Jamaican history. The Maroons, or runaway slaves, would smoke their meats over open flames fueled by local pimento wood for preservation in the pre-refrigeration days.

Jerk spices were derived from the West African love for hot peppers (in Jamaica, the heat is provided by the Scotch Bonnet pepper), combined with indigenous spices, which can include pimento berries, cloves, cinnamon, scallions, nutmeg, thyme, garlic, ginger and perhaps some brown sugar.

But as with any good barbecue recipe, the secret ingredients are never revealed and the cooking method can vary, though most defer to the preferred original technique: chicken, pork and even fish and seafood is laid out across a flattened oil barrel punctuated with holes to allow the smoke to infiltrate, over an open charcoal fire.

Andre Fowles, chef at renowned New York eatery Miss Lily’s and two-time champion of the Food Network’s “Chopped,” will be demonstrating cooking techniques and dishes in the Culinary Pavilion. PBS’ Chef Irie Spice will also be on hand to add flavor in the Culinary Pavilion, along with local chef Giovanni Merle, who has been featured on several local media channels and named one of the top chefs in the United States in Barilla’s “Represent Your Region Contest.” He also won the 2016 Mason-Dixon Master Chef Tournament.

But fiercely competing for the coveted Dutch Pot Trophy, the Dish Call Competition entrants will pit the vendors against each other for a cash prize and better yet, bragging rights for the Best Jerk. Lucky patrons will have an opportunity to sample different takes on Jerk, or they can weigh in on the varieties of traditional Jerk on hand for the festival.

Early arrivals can enjoy the Cultural Stage showcasing traditional dances, folk songs and artistic and literary performances celebrating Jamaica’s 55th year of independence. A fashion and dance show by Divine Divas will put Caribbean fashion and contemporary dance on display while Carnival masqueraders, storytelling and music from a young violinist from Barbados, Mylez Gittens, will keep the activities lively and diverse. An expanded Kidz Zone offers interactive activities and a special children’s menu, complete with jerk burgers, grilled hot dogs, ice cream and cotton candy.

The DC Jerk Festival kicks off at 11 a.m. and runs through 8 p.m. Tickets are available at www.dcjerkfestival.com and selected Caribbean retail outlets. Children 12 and under are free. Attendees can take the Blue or Orange Metro lines to Stadium-Armory Station, and onsite parking will be available at RFK as well. The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival is co-presented by the Institute of Caribbean Studies in conjunction with the Jamaican Jerk Festival NY and VP Records.

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