Conversation with Marcia McDonnough Organisor and Coordinator the Jamaica Epicurean Escape Festival

With an MBA from the University of New Orleans Marcia has over 30 years of experience in the travel, tourism, hospitality and entertainment industries. Her strengths lie in management and marketing with emphasis on event management. As sponsorship and marketing manager for the two largest Festivals in Jamaica (Reggae Sumfest and Jamaica Jazz and Blues), she developed important relationships with the major corporate decision makers in the local community as well as some key international players. Marcia’s experience and love for events makes her an ideal candidate for being the overall organisor and coordinator of the Jamaica Epicurean Escape.

The festival is a versatile family event targeting an extensive profile of patrons including food and wine enthusiasts, culinary specialists, music and art lovers, trendsetters and just those persons seeking a relaxing and entertaining day with friends and family. Patrons will be able to taste from over 32 food stations, participate in seminars, chef demonstrations, and a lot more.  They will also enjoy an exciting slate of entertainers across the two days of its staging.  Various types of activities including dance, drumming, and musical performance will take place at various times throughout the day while a concert featuring popular artists will close the festival each day.

What is your background and how did you become a “foodie”?
I started in the airline industry, branched off into marketing and spent over 12 years as the marketing and Sales manager for Air Jamaica.  Quite by accident I got into events when invited to be the sponsorships and marketing manager for Jamaica Jazz and Blues.  This rolled over into the same position for Reggae Sumfest and after only a few years with these two festivals I was truly bitten with the large events bug.  I must confess that it’s the large event bug rather than the “foodie” bug that got me into doing the Jamaica Epicurean Escape.  Initially I just thought it would be a really cool festival to do along with the others.  I must confess though that in the last three years the culinary industry has become quite a facination for me and only gets more and more interesting as I dig deeper.

Tell us about the Jamaica Epicurean Escape? How did it get started?
It started out over 4 years ago just as a concept for another large event that could become an annual event in Jamaica.  Being drawn to large events as I am, I started the research into food festivals all over the world, looking at each one and taking from them concepts that I think I could adapt and fine tune for Jamaica.  After months of research and discussions with the members of a team that got together for the project, we came up on a concept that we thought could work and I put all the concepts that we didnt reject into a formal plan, creating the Jamaica Epicurean Escape and on December 1 2012 we opened the gates of the festival to the public.  As it unfolded and we realised the enormity and the grandeur of what we had created we realised how totally crazy we were to have undertaken such a huge task.  However at the end of the two days after having received the most wonderful comments about the festival, we knew we were on the right track and knew that was the start of what we know will become one of Jamaica’s premier annual events.  Of course the concept has been fined tuned, massaged, and enhanced several times based on what we have discovered on our epicurean journey and we are now ready to embark on another crazy adventure.

What is the main goal of the festival?
The main goal of the festival is to offer people a truly fantastic culinary experience that will not only satisfy their palates but will also educate and entertain them.  We are also very proud of how much Jamaica’s food has fascinated the world and we want to use this festival to bring persons from all over the globe to a first class, first world culinary event in Jamaica with the long term view of developing it as a major culinary destination. Finally the relationships that we have developed with the chefs over the time we have been working on the festival has shown us that our young chefs need an outlet that can really showcase their skills to the world and we want to use the festival as a launch pad where this can take place both in a financial way as well as promotional.

What can we expect this year?
Like last year we will deliver first class food, music and entertainment.  We plan to expand the variety of the types of food we offer through international and caribbean themes.  We will have over 40 food stations, hotel gourmet booths, as well as seminars and chef demonstrations.   We have added two new activities – one is our Celebrity Chefs Charity dinner ( Silks and Tails) which will feature 10 top chefs who will create a fantastic 5 course menu. This will be the first time so many top chefs have come together to do this and so we are extremely proud of it.  The proceeds from this dinner will go towards creating a scholarship to be offered to a young chef to further his or her skills. ( menu attached).  We are also adding a party called Epi-Q. Its a day dance party by the sea which will feature top DJs and will also feature top chefs.  The theme for the food will be grilled, braised and barbecued. Jamaicans love to party and to eat and so we feel the combination should work well.

Is there one thing this year you are looking forward to?
I am looking forward to actually attending the event.  Unfortunately on the first occasion I was so buried deep in all types of organising and getting stuff in place that I dont think I even ate any of the food .  I actually saw most of what was at the festival when I looked at photographs and the video footage…I was amazed by the stuff I saw.  So I have made a promise to myself that I am going to complete my duties extremely early so that I can actually attend the festival this year…so of course I am quite excited by this thought.

Do you think there is enough being done internationally to promote Jamaican food as a part of our brand?
No I don’t think so.   I believe that with the strength of the Jamaican brand and the unique taste of our food that has just taken the world by storm, we should already be on the map as one of the top culinary destinations.   As I get more involved in the Jamaica Epicurean Escape, I want to use it as a vehicle to improve on this and so as a team we plan to come up with ideas that will extend out of the main event and develop concepts that will keep exposing our food throughout the year with the culmination of the brand’s activities being the festival. 

Where do you see the festival 5 years from now?
Oh I see the festival being over a week long with over 40,000 in attendance.  I see lots of top international chefs participating and our top local chefs shining.  I see lots of international coverage for the festival and Jamaica and I see me smiling and so happy that I did not give up even with all the challenges that have been put in our path.

When you are not busy with the Jamaica Epicurean Escape what do you do to relax?
I am a movie addict…even when I am busy I steal a bit of time to watch movies. This is how I unwind and get my mind to stop thinking.  I also love to party and lime with friends.  I love Carnival and all that comes with it. 

My comfort food is… 
…anything chocolate…

If I wanted to impress someone visiting Jamaica I would take them to….
Its hard to think of one…There are so many special places in Jamaica and of course it depends on what you want to impress them with…..however what pops into my mind now is sitting at Hollywell Park in the Blue Mountains at 6 am, looking in awe at the magnificence of the mountains and looking down on the city of Kingston and saying to myself…what a beautiful country..I’m so glad to be Jamaican…. so maybe I would take them there.

Thanks for the time. Where can we learn more about the Jamaica Epicurean Escape? , , ,

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Xavier Murphy