June 25, 2006 – Gwenda Dagou, honored Sunday at St. John's July 4th Celebration Food Fair for her years of culinary efforts, was one busy woman at her booth along the waterfront.
Dressed in madras, the Guy Benjamin School head cook was busy filling Styrofoam plates with her specialties.
"Mutton and conch," she said when asked what her customers will remember the most.
Dagou put a ruffled white apron over her madras dress when it came time to be honored with a plaque and flowers at the opening ceremony in Cruz Bay Park.
Leona Smith, chairman of the St. John Cultural and Festival Organization, said that the Anguilla-born Dagou was a no-nonsense, conscientious person who's worked with the committee since arriving on St. John in 1981.
She said that Dagou, who moved from Anguilla to Tortola in 1974, came frequently to St. John with her mother to sell fruits and vegetables.
After moving to St. John, she regularly set up her booth at Food Fair and the Village.
"I want to thank the entire St. John community for supporting me all these years," she said.
Sunday also saw the crowning of Miss St. John and the July 4th Celebration princess. Moremi Aderohunmu was chosen at Saturday's selection show to reign over this year's celebration as queen. Last weekend, Aysha Clendinen was picked to be the event's princess.
The two – both visions in white – waved to the crowd as they accepted flowers.
"You can rest assured St. John will be represented with great pride," Aderohunmu, who also captured the princess title in 1997, said.
Her mother, Kim Holland, said this time it was more work. "But I'm very proud," she said.
More than a dozen people set up tents along the waterfront to sell their wares. Another handful had spots in and near the park.
St. Thomas resident Lucia Henley is a Food Fair stalwart. Indeed, St. John resident Oscar James touted her extensive array of dishes to people heading in the direction of Food Fair.
"That lady around the corner has everything you could think of," he said, referring to Henley.
He said he already sampled the stuffed shellfish and kallaloo. He said he planned to go back later for more.
"I didn't fill up yet. I just had an appetizer," he said.
In addition to the stuffed shellfish, Henley had all kinds of foods seldom found on restaurant menus.
"Coconut dumb bread, salt fish cake, stuffed crab back, stuffed half a lobster, fried sprats, sweet potato pudding, and all kinds of tarts," she said, holding up a tart with four different types of fillings sitting side by side.
She said it takes her about a week to prepare all the food, but she makes the preserves and guavaberry liquor when the fruits are in season.
Folks from across the Virgin Islands, as well as vacationers, were on hand to sample the delicacies.
"We went to church and decided this would be a good afternoon activity," Bolton, Conn., resident Jane Ericson said.
Her husband, Chuck Ericson, said he had already tried the conch and whelk.
St. Croix residents O'Neal Abel and Tony Messer really came for the boat races scheduled later that afternoon but were busy taking in the sights while they waited for the races to begin. "We didn't know about Food Fair," Messer said.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson, a St. Croix resident, said he and his family had spent the last several days on St. John so he could familiarize himself with the island.
"So I feel the vibe," he said, busily chatting at Food Fair.
In addition to food vendors, the park was filled with people selling jewelry, crafts and clothing. St. Thomas resident Nayda Young set up a tent to sell her all-white clothing.
"My clothes are ageless," she said, displaying a pair of white wrap-around pants.
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