The Jamaica Observer held its 15th annual Table Talk Awards event on Thursday, 30 May, in the grounds of famous Devon House in Kingston.
A much anticipated yearly celebration of food, the awards evening is one of the hottest tickets in Jamaica, featuring booths dressed to the nines presented by top names in the food and beverage industry.
One of the most impressive stages was set by Best Dressed Chicken, complete with chandeliers, mirrored walls, full cooking station and a resident DJ spinning the tunes. Cayman’s own chef Keith Griffin was invited by this leading purveyor of poultry to join prominent Jamaican chefs Dennis McIntosh and Brian Lumley in cooking up delectable tidbits at its station throughout the evening. It was an extraordinary experience for Mr. Griffin, who described the entire event as “Amazing! An incredible setup and great food!”
His dishes proved popular with the waiting crowd, conveyed by lovely ladies suited up in their “Best Dressed” dresses.
The idea for the awards began as many do; on a small scale with a few enthusiastic people getting together and sharing their vision. The driving force behind this incredibly successful foodie celebration is Novia McDonald-Whyte, the lifestyle editor for the Jamaica Observer.
A dervish of creativity, style and endless energy, she is always to be found in the centre of the maelstrom as the big night approaches, hosting talks and presentations one moment and juggling multiple phones on-site the next. Her passion for food and the promotion of Jamaican cuisine in the local, regional and international market has been a large factor in the growth of the Table Talk Awards from small beginnings to the globally recognised event it is today.
“We started as a cabal of foodies,” she recalls, “meeting at Redbones, now located on Argyle Road.”
“Norma Shirley [revered Jamaican chef] and I wanted to start a celebration of food.
“At the beginning, we only had about 75 people, and the first event was a cocktail party. Norma Shirley provided the food and Wray & Nephew provided the bar. The key was to get it off the ground.”
“There was a peak of interest in food at the time,” she continues, “and we said we needed to have something like a Grammy night and an Oscar night, but with food.
“Dr. George Phillip was the director of the Observer back then, and when I told him about our idea he said ‘Fine, go ahead and do it’, basically implying that we were on our own [laughs]. We’ve not looked back since.”
Since its inception, the Table Talk Awards has seen several famous international faces both attending and presenting during its calendar of functions, including Trini-born Canadian chef Roger Mooking and chef Andy Husbands.
One of the most popular celebrity chefs was British legend Marco Pierre White, sometimes referred to as the “godfather of modern cooking”.
“He did the seminar,” McDonald-Whyte said, “and you could have heard a pin drop. It was amazing.”
Now that this year’s event is officially over, the organisers only have a short breather before they prepare for the next one.
“We hold a debriefing,” McDonald-Whyte said, “thank everybody because it’s a labour of love, and then we’re back to the drawing board ready to book the venue for next year.”
Chef Griffin is certainly keen to attend again, now that he’s seen the scope of the awards and got his feet wet. “I have to thank Best Dressed Chicken for inviting me,” he said.
“I really didn’t know what to expect when I went for this first time, and now I’ve been a part of it, I am definitely eager to come back again. It was a fantastic experience.
“I hope we can get more representatives from Cayman to go in 2014. It is absolutely an event worth participating in and attending.”