After almost 10 years of whipping up local delicacies at booth number six in Festival Village, Clemeana Hodge-Duncan is being recognized as 2009 Food Fair Honoree.
The administrative officer at Julius E. Spruave School — from where Duncan herself graduated and has worked now for 35 years — learned to cook from her mother, she explained.
“My mother Mildred Foy was from Tortola, but we moved here when I was three months old,” said Hodge-Duncan. “I just learned to make things watching my Mom when I was young. We used to all help out.”
Before the modern era of St. John Festival started, islanders used to gather on July fourth for a day of camaraderie, which being on St. John, of course included great food and drinks.
“Back in the 1960s we used to call it Independence Day and people used to set up tables by where Colombian Emeralds is now,” Hodge-Duncan said. “My mother used to set up a booth there and all us kids would help out frying chicken in the big coal pot. It was always a lot of fun.”
Years later, Hodge-Duncan and her sisters started serving food like their mother used to make from their own booth at Festival Village.
“It’s not just me,” said Hodge-Duncan. “A major part of this honor goes to my entire family who works the booth with me every year. I could never do it without them.”
Among the many people who help out at her Festival Village booth are Hodge-Duncan’s husband Claudius Duncan, sister Naomi Hodge, LaVerne Thomas, Slyvia Russel, and her daughters Dr. Kishann Duncan and Atty. Kyle Duncan.
“We all work the booth together,” said Hodge-Duncan. “We make it a lot of fun and always keep it a family thing.”
Although working a festival booth takes a lot of time and energy, it’s well worth the effort to show off St. John culture, explained Hodge-Duncan.
“It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun too,” she said. “You get to meet a lot of people and especially the tourists. You get to introduce them to food they’ve never had and watch them enjoy it for the first time.”
“They love our food and can’t wait to try everything,” Hodge-Duncan said. “At St. John Festival we treat people with love and respect because it’s our home and our culture. We want to share that.”
While news of the recognition took her by surprise, Hodge-Duncan is happy to accept the award as Food Fair honoree, she explained.
“It’s not something I expected, but it’s nice,” she said. “It’s like people saying thanks for everything you do, which is nice.”
Be sure to watch Hodge-Duncan be recognized as Food Fair honoree on Sunday, June 28, at 1 p.m. at Frank Powell Park. And stop by booth number six to taste some of the best local fare around from kallaloo, conch and whelks to johnny cakes — which Hodge-Duncan says are the “best in Village” — and vegetarian and meat lasagna.