Fiery jerk chicken, colorful feathers at Caribbean Fest

Two-day event is sweaty summer fun in Clifton Park

  • Janelle Cumberbatch of Silver Spring dances in costume at the annual Caribbean Carnival Festival parade on the Alameda.
Janelle Cumberbatch of Silver Spring dances in costume at the… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
July 10, 2011|By Arthur Hirsch, The Baltimore Sun

Wayne Smith is standing at the Weber gas grill in Clifton Park brushing barbecue sauce over a batch of jerk chicken — a Caribbean signature dish in a weekend of cultural signatures at the 30th annual Caribbean Carnival Festival.

He's at the edge of a circle of vendors, but the jerk cookery puts him at the center of the spirit of things on the first day of the two-day festival. It's about 2 p.m. in full sun with a temperature about 90 away from the grill, so who knows how hot it is right here where he's working in back of the Wat U Makin Jamaican stand, where they figured on selling about 100 pounds of chicken this weekend?

Signs hung on the fences surrounding the festival ground instead say "Carib" beer. Speakers scattered around the grounds thump reggae and soca music. Vendors are selling Caribbean CDs, dashikis, hats with mock dreadlocks pouring out, baggy wool caps in the green, yellow, and black of the Jamaican flag, T-shirt after T-shirt stamped with the image of reggae icon Bob Marley.

Across the grassy festival grounds, Gwennie Hector, proprietor of Gwennie's Trini Style stand, is prying chicken parts from a frozen mass the size of a small boulder. She's dropping the parts into a big pot with oil and Grace brand Browning, a combination of water, caramel and salt for stewed chicken. The meat will cook in its own juices slowly, on low heat, for 45 minutes.

It happens it's a favorite for Elaine Simon, the president of Caribbean Carnival Festival, who by late afternoon has only just finished leading the carnival parade along a route just over a mile from the old Memorial Stadium site, down East 33rd Street to The Alameda, across Harford Road to Saint Lo Drive into the park. Somehow, with all the stopping and dancing, it took three hours.

The parade is an explosion of color and sound. Music trucks pump out soca from speakers the size of small refrigerators; marchers wear glittering pink, gold, silver costumes with feather headdresses. Some are towing light floats on wheels made of fabric stretched over frames like giant angel wings in gold, pink and white.

"In the islands, this would have been a week" of festivities, says Simon, who left her native Antigua in 1969. In the Caribbean, she says, it's "work hard and party."

Asked for her favorite Caribbean food, she instantly mentions "stewed chicken, and curry peas and rice." But she's from Antigua.

"If you ask a Jamaican," she says, "They will say, 'I love me some jerk.'

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