There’s more to the Caribbean than white-sand beaches and crystal-clear water.
Perhaps it’s time to spice up your knowledge about the region’s rich customs and traditions.
On June 13, Clermont’s Waterfront Park will be filled with the sights, sounds and smells of the Caribbean during the fourth annual Taste of the Caribbean and Jerk Festival. The multicultural event will include Jamaican-style jerk food, live music by Caribbean bands, spectacular costumes and island rhythm dances.
From the sounds of steel drums to exhibition cricket matches, the daylong event is designed to educate festivalgoers about the Caribbean culture in a fun and family-friendly environment.
“The Caribbean has such a diverse mix of cultures and flavors,” said Valerie Bray, who serves as public relations coordinator of the event. “We want visitors to walk away with a comprehensive understanding of what Caribbean food, music and people are all about.”
Several cooks plan on bringing the heat during the jerk cook-off competition, which is undoubtedly one of the highlights of the event. Jerk, a style of cooking native to Jamaica, involves marinating meat in spicy jerk sauce that typically contains thyme, onion and garlic. After the meat is marinated for 24 hours, it is then slow cooked over an open-flame fire. Judges score the entries based on flavor, taste and presentation.
“Jerk is a mixture of spices that can season any type of meat, including fish, chicken and pork,” explained Valerie, a native of Jamaica who moved to the U.S. in 1984.
The event kicks off at 11 a.m. with the “Parade of Islands,” where women from various Caribbean islands dress in native costumes and dance to native music. More entertainment is slated throughout the day, including live bands performing a combination of calypso, chutney, soca, reggae and steel drum music. This year’s featured band is 506 Crew, which has performed reggae music at restaurants throughout Central Florida.
Visitors will also have an opportunity to savor the flavor of popular Caribbean dishes. One of them is escovitch, a type of smoked fish that is cooked with onion, pepper, thyme and vinegar. They also can try a delicious bread called festival, which is similar to hush puppies because it’s cooked in flour and cornmeal. Attendees can enjoy other island favorites such as sweet potato pudding and coconut water, as well as fair food like cotton candy and ice cream.
“We have lots of activities for people of all ages,” Valerie said. “However, I think the camaraderie you see is the most unique thing about this festival. Seeing a diverse group of people dancing, laughing, eating and having a good time is what it’s all about.”
The Caribbean-American Association of Lake County organizes the event. The 95-member nonprofit group focuses its efforts on reaching local youth. The Taste of the Caribbean and Jerk Festival helps raise money toward the organization’s scholarship program for college-bound students in Lake County. This year, members will award five scholarships.
The group meets on the third Saturday at 466 Minneola Ave., Clermont.
“There are a percentage of Caribbean people scattered throughout Lake County,” Valerie said. “If you are Caribbean born or have Caribbean heritage, then you are welcome to join us and make a positive impact in the lives of kids.”
Tickets to the event cost $7 for adults and $3 for children 10 and under. For more information, visit caalc.org.