What a jerk! Caribbean food fest celebrates all the islands

Whole taste: Chef Shayaa’s Caribbean meat patties made with a homemade whole wheat crust.
Brooklyn Paper
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Curry on down to Canarsie!

A new food festival in Canarsie aims to showcase the wide variety of Caribbean cuisine, featuring culinary favorites from more than a dozen different islands. The organizer of the New York City Caribbean Food Festival, happening on July 15 at Pacplex, says that she wants the event to do away with stereotypes and preconceived notions of what the region’s cuisine is like.

“I want people to appreciate and enjoy the different dishes that the Caribbean has to offer because we are not just all about pineapples and coconut,” said Deborah L. Burchell. “Once you say Caribbean, they’re thinking palm trees — but we are more than that.”

Burchell, an event planner, came up with the idea after noticing lack of West Indian representation at other city food events. Most festivals featured only a few from select cultures, she said.

“Every time I go to a festival there may be only one Caribbean vendor and it’s a lot about jerk but nothing for the entire Caribbean to come together,” she said. “It’s either Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, [or] Jamaica.”

For her festival, Burchell has recruited chefs serving food from Belize, Jamaica, Haiti, Guyana, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and a few other spots.

Each admission ticket will allow guests to sample dishes from five different vendors, and those with VIP tickets will also get a sit-down, four-course meal and alcoholic beverages, according to Burchell.

The diverse offerings on the menu will let eaters a chance to experience trendy plates influenced by stateside favorites.

“We have a nice Caribbean modernized menu and it’s not going be a typical curry — we are having something more modern,” said Burchell. “It’s going to be a fusion and a mix of American and original Caribbean.”

One of those innovative dishes will be a shark and waffle dish, served by Prospect Heights chef Shayaa Muhammad, who was inspired to combine Trinidadian fast food and southern cuisine.

“I had to choose something from my country and a popular dish is bake and shark,” he said. “I also like to eat chicken and waffles, so I figured I’d do something from my island but with a twist.”

He will be serving a lightly fried shark, along with some fried chicken for those who are not fond of fish.

In addition to the food, the fest will feature live calypso, soca, and reggae music, with a performance from up-and-coming soca singer KC.

New York City Caribbean Food Festival at Pacplex [1500 Paerdegat Avenue North between Paerdegat 13th and 14th Streets in Canarsie, (718) 209–1010,]. July 15, noon–7 pm. $20 ($65 VIP, free for kids 12 or younger).

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at
Updated 9:19 am, July 11, 2017
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