Bright oranges, yellows and crisp greens dot the diners’ plates at Island Jerk in downtown Brunswick. The colorful carrots, cabbage and corn are are reminiscent of the land from which the dishes yield — Jamaica.
The Caribbean nation has a long and proud culture, ranging from its uplifting reggae music to its flavorful cuisine. Sharing that tradition has been part of Bernie Gendron’s plan since she opened the downtown restaurant in 2013.
Not only is she interested in sharing Jamaican food and culture, Gendron also hopes to promote some of the healthy eating habits the islanders endorse.
“It’s healthy eating, and we really try to push healthy eating. We like healthy, healthy, healthy food,” she said with a laugh. “And that’s what (Jamaicans) eat. You don’t have to have a lot of money to do it either. You can eat Caribbean food on a dime if you know how to do it right.”
Many islanders harvest food from their own gardens or the nearby sea, crafting a bouquet of fruits and vegetables that create the bulk of the cuisine. At Island Jerk, menu items include the popular veggie delight and conch fritters, as well as blackened shrimp or tilapia.
The food boasts natural flavors coupled with high-quality nutritional value.
“We don’t use any additives or fillers or anything like that in our food. It’s all natural,” Gendron said. “Caribbean people eat with the seasons so it’s always fresh.”
She hopes to expose more people to these dishes and the culture it comes from. To that end, Gendron and Island Jerk will be hosting a celebration in honor of Jamaican Independence Day from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday.
“It’s like our Fourth of July ... it’s the day they got their independence from Britain. Of course, it hasn’t been that long ago — like 58 years,” she said.
“My birthday is actually that same day so I’m definitely in the right business.”
Gendron is pulling out all of the stops to mark the occasion. She will be decorating with flags and rolling out tables filled with food.
“We’re going to have all the food — all traditional Jamaican food. We will also have the rum cakes, which are also made in the traditional way along with drinks like ginger beer,” she said.
She will offer games for children in Machen Square near the Newcastle Street restaurant. Island Jerk also teamed up with local businesses who gifted prizes.
Golden Isles ATA donated a month’s worth of tae kwon do classes with a uniform. The Brunswick Kids Club is giving away free gymnastics lessons. Both are located at 111 Center Drive, Brunswick.
“We’ll have a lot of different games for them and we’ll have contests. The winners will get class passes to tae kwon do or gymnastics,” she said.
The event will enforce social distancing and mask wearing to keep attendees safe. And Gendron is looking forward to a fun-filled day of community and culture.
“We have a lot of Caribbean people in our community and the international festival got cancelled this year, so we wanted to do something to share the culture and share what Jamaica is about,” she said.