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Coal Pot Cook-Off at Emancipation Garden This Year

With the third annual Coal Pot Cook-Off next week, it’s beginning to look like the feast honoring the old, traditional way of cooking may become the island’s newest culinary tradition.

This year the event will be in a new venue, Emancipation Garden, on May 19 from noon to 3 p.m. It is free and open to everybody.

Though it has been held on the Fort Christian grounds the last two years, the Garden provides the bandstand and a lot more room, Trust Director Erik Miles said.

The cook-off was the idea of one of the Trust’s interns, Larise Joasil, according to Trust President Ronald Lockhart. A St. Thomas native, Joasil conducted a demonstration making johnny cakes over a coal pot in front of the Trust museum in the summer of 2012 on Roosevelt Park just for fun. It caught on, and she suggested having a community cook-off.

If the past two years are any indication, Joasil was right on the money. Folks — from the senior members of the community to visitors and the younger crowd — have had nothing but praise for the feast.

The coal pot was once the only method of preparing a hot meal and, many say, it is still the best. Coal pots are a cooking method dating from before kitchen stoves became common. The pots are ceramic, iron or aluminum, all of which have been represented in the past two years.

The pots are not by any means only a memory; they can be seen bubbling away with all sorts of soups and stews at the monthly Bordeaux farmers’ fair.

This year has some more professional touches. Miles said, "We are looking forward to this year, in particular, we are coordinating with the Department of Tourism for the first time. It’s a wonderful cooperation on both sides. We’re hoping to build it to become a traditional event. Also, this year, we have professional judges whose experience and criteria bring it to the next level.”

For the past two years, winners were determined by the diners depending on the amount in the chef’s tip cups.

Each chefs arrives early in the morning, to set up his or her "kitchen.”

Last year’s offerings catered to an imaginative palate, ranging from miniature johnny cakes filled with chicken and mango, served by Chef Ashley Allen’s young interns Brandon Setori and Deuhante Petty; Chef Harry Ralph, of Hook, Line and Sinker, had kallaloo or clam chowder, and mini johnny cakes the size of donut holes; the V.I. Culinary Team chefs — Captain Marco Sanchez, Taj Siwatu, George Sittig and Danika Joseph — served seafood rumdown, a Jamaican fish stew; Chef Shirley Honore had smoked herring pilaf; and Jahleejah Peace, of Natural Living Kulcha store and juice bar, served an Ital rice made with curry and coconut milk, with grilled mangoes.

You get the idea. Nobody goes away hungry.

This year’s competing chefs are Kerish Robles, Jahleejah Peace, Drina Anthony, Maura Hennesey, Chef Taj, Shirley Honore and Dawn Commissiong with special assistant Julius Jackson.

Judges are: Chef Digby from St. Croix, Chef Cory Magras and Denise Georges from St. Thomas.
Prizes for first, second and third place will include replica miniature coal-pots crafted by ceramist Jessica Rosenberg. The awards ceremony will be hosted by Addie Ottley and begin at 2:30 p.m. in the gazebo.

Other sponsors include the V.I. Council on the Arts, the V.I. Department of Tourism, Merchants Bank, Sea Chest and West Indies Company.

The St. Thomas Historical Trust will also have colorful Coal Pot Cook-Off aprons and T-shirts for sale.

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