Jamaica Observer / It was hot as Hades on Saturday, July 7. This did not stop the thousands of patrons from leaving the cool streams of fans and confines of air-conditioned rooms to descend upon Hope Gardens to attend KGN Kitchen. The food event took a two-year hiatus before returning for its 12th iteration. “We had a chance to regroup. In addition, there were a number of scheduling conflicts,” said Leisha Wong, co-principal of KGN Kitchen. Wong had a number of other events that she was working on and her partners, Melanie Miller and Jacqui Sinclair, wanted to focus on their growing family and health, respectively. Night markets originated in East and South-east Asian cities and were an essential part of Chinese society by 960 AD. Within contemporary culture, their popularity can be attributed to western cities with large Asian populations such as Melbourne, Vancouver, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The night market concept has huge economic potential and its family appeal is refreshing, as most night activities are marketed to young club goers.
KGN Kitchen’s night market did not stray far from centre and it was pleasing to see so many young families enjoying a night out. The admission price of $1,200 at the gate was disconcerting to some. But, according to Wong, “As it is a family event we have to create a space that’s safe and secure. There was live entertainment; the kids’ fun zone with rides, face painting and balloon animals; and secure parking with shuttle service. All these costs are factored into the admission price.”
Thursday Food can say that the grounds were very clean and toilets tidy. There was ample security, the entertainment was excellent (shoutout, Ska Sonics!) and children definitely could not get enough of the kids’ zone.
Now, on to the food. It was impossible to sample all 60-plus food vendors. However, Thursday Food decided to focus on the global street food offerings. Let’s start with the liquid calories.
Leave it to Fromage to do frosé (a slushie made of sparkling rose and fruit juice). The trendy drink of millennials who live for Instagram likes was ideal on such a hot day. It was consumed, without irony, by folks of all ages. Carrie “Quizz” Sigurdson of Tea Tree Crêperie poured what seemed like endless cups of magic lemonade (mojito). Bright with spearmint and jaw clenching from the liberal slugs of overproof rum, it really hit the mark. Yes, there was a bar that offered pop, wine and mixed drinks. But the long lines and semblance of mayhem were off-putting.
There was an unofficial lamb battle between Scott van Bonnet Jamaican Shawarma and NCR Sheep. Scott van Bonnet was the winner by a mile. The former’s food truck dished out a superbly spicy lamb shawarma with just enough bon cuit bits to add crunch, a good schmear of tzatziki to cool down the heat, tart pickles to cut through the fattiness and a pillowy pita to hold it all together. Maybe because it was minutes to 11:00 pm why the lamb sausage and jerk lamb from NCR Sheep were flat. The jerk had too much gristle, was not nearly piquant enough for the local palate and had a paltry serving for $700. Whereas the sausage was too coarse and did not have a pleasant finish on the palate.
Another popular street food — elote (Mexican grilled corn) was widely consumed at the event. Fromage, Pink Apron and Reggae Jammin hot dogs capitalised on the Mexican street food. Fromage and Pink Apron sold theirs on the cob while Reggae Jammin decided to use a kernel version to top their sausages. They were all quite good. A note about Reggae Jammin — that hot dog was cooked perfectly. It snapped when you bit into it.
I Love Paella stuck to its Spanish roots and offered a selection of tapas — chicken croquetas, chicken empanadas, black bean empanadas and patatas bravas (fried potato cubes topped with a spicy tomato sauce and aioli). The croquetas were crispy on the outside, creamy in the centre and well-seasoned. The black bean empanada was hot and delicious. The chicken, however, was cold. Why? With each serving running at $500, it was a pricey gamble. But it actually paid off for other patrons.
What did pay off were the vegan offerings. Quelle surprise! “If I had someone cooking this for me every day I could easily be vegan,” said one patron, describing Eatopia’s fruit and nut salad with honey-glazed roasted plantains. Their tandoori beans were flavourful, toothsome and moreish. Nobonezone’s Veggie Meals on Wheels served spectacular veggie fritters that made one ask “who needs salt fish?” Like England’s World Cup team on Saturday, the vegans came to win, not to play.
The flavour profile of a number of meats was, in a word, cloying. The balance wasn’t quite worked out and if you had two sweet meats (see what we did there?) back-to-back you would have packed it in and headed home. That’s if you got food.
The major gripe at KGN Kitchen were the long lines at tents and the lack of sampling. Best Dressed offered complimentary cups of red peas soup that kept guests occupied while they waited. Others should have employed this and other marketing ploys to get the money that people so definitely wanted to spend. Full disclosure: Thursday Food only spent $4,300 when we could have easily spent more.
Speaking of money, we’re pretty much in a cashless society so it was a missed opportunity by a number of vendors not to have debit/credit machines. Alternatively, the KGN Kitchen team should have partnered with a bank to have an ATM on-site. It’s 2018; we can make this happen.
Other items that did not disappoint were the things that were supposed to be sweet. Juju’s Catering, Nomad Treats, Streetfood Saturdays, Pastries by Jan and Simo’s Bread and Catering all offered an array of knockout desserts. Juju wowed Thursday Food with its banana bread topped with toasted coconut. The plantain beignets from Streetfood Saturdays were more like doughnuts, but the ripe plantain flavour was fantastic. Christina Simonitsch’s now-famous rose and pistachio cronuts pleased many. Nomad Treats had delectable cheesecake brownies. And Pastries by Jan had a triple berry cheesecake that was all sorts of delicious.
It’s pleasing to see KGN Kitchen night market being well supported. It’s clear that patrons missed the event. They made up for this by coming out in droves to eat good food, support local artisans and have an evening that was fun for the whole family.
— Vaughn Gray