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Jamaican Jerk Fest Brings Live Music, Celebrity Chef Cook-Off to Queens

 The annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival will take place this Sunday at Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica.
Jamaican Jerk Festival
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QUEENS — A park will be transformed into “a mecca of Jamaican food, music and culture” this weekend for a popular yearly festival there, organizers said.

The Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival, centered around the Caribbean island's jerk cuisine, is returning to Roy Wilkins Park in Jamaica on Sunday with a celebrity cook-off, a "kidz zone" and performances by reggae artists Maxi Priest, who sang with UB40, and Etana.

“It’s a great family-oriented event,” said festival co-founder Eddy Edwards. "And it's getting more and more popular."

Edwards said the event attracted about 4,000 people during its first year in 2011. Last year, he noted, more than 16,000 people came to Roy Wilkins Park to celebrate Jamaican food and culture.

The competition between celebrity chefs has become one of the biggest attractions, organizers said.

This year, it features two finalists from the Food Network series "Chopped"— chefs Max Hardy and Nelson Gason — who will try to impress festival-goers by creating the best Jamaican jerk recipe, organizers said.

Last year, then-mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio also participated in the cook-off.

In addition to food and arts-and-crafts vendors, the festival will also feature a Caribbean cultural stage, where artists will present poetry and folk music, including steelpan performances, from noon to 3 p.m.

Jamaican comedian Chris “Johnny” Daley is also scheduled to participate, organizers said.

The "kidz zone” will feature numerous attractions for children of all ages, including rock climbing, magic shows and face painting, organizers said. There will also be storytelling to connect them with Jamaican history and heritage.

Queens-based reggae label VP Records, which co-produces the event, will also present a pop-up exhibit celebrating its 35th anniversary. The exhibit will include numerous photos and a detailed map exploring the history and impact of reggae music, organizers said.

This weekend, Jamaica residents can also participate in the First Annual Family Fun Day at St. Albans Park (Merrick Boulevard between 173rd Place and Sayres Avenue).

During the free event, scheduled for this Saturday between noon and 4 p.m., families will get to listen to live jazz; there will be face painting, arts and crafts, as well as health screenings and access to experts from various city agencies, including the Department of Housing Preservation and Development and the Department of Environmental Protection. For more information, call 718-776-3700 (ask for Ms. Denson).

The annual Grace Jamaican Jerk Festival will take place at Roy Wilkins Park on Baisley Blvd. in Jamaica on Sunday, July 20. Advance tickets are $30, available online at www.jerkfestivalny.com. The event is free for kids 12 and under. Gates will open at noon. The festival is scheduled to end at 8 p.m.