It is more than just baking for him.
Ezra Beckles is not your average pastry chef. In fact, he is not average at all. He is a pastry chef with a twist.
He is a “boss” at making special types of flour, including dog dumpling, river tamarind and sweet potato flour. Strange? To most, yes, but to Beckles not at all. He believes they are essential.
“Dog dumpling flour is very popular in the hotel. It’s one of the rare fruits that a lot of people don’t use. Over the years, coming along you hear a lot of elderly people say don’t use it, it’s not good for you; but when I check around, driving around Barbados I realize that the monkeys were eating the fruit that people say is not god for you; so there has to be something good about the fruit,” he said.
Beckles continued: “I did more research, going into St Joseph, and I found out from the elderly people how good the fruit is for you. And I realized it helps people if they have bloodclots, and with the reduction of cancer. Now I use breadfruit, cassava, pan cactus, sweet potato, and they’re a big thing in the hotels. We get a lot of respect from our clients. People who come visit the island have certain dietary requirements; so we are the liaison from Barbados for people from England or the USA. When the clients get here we have the products here ready for them.”
But how does Beckles make this type of flour?
“It’s quite simple,” he said.
“I do dehydrating. Once the liquid is out of the fruit, and then I put it into a Bullet Blender and grind everything into powder,” he explained.
However, Beckles told Barbados TODAY that the flour was not very familiar with the locals and it had not yet reached the supermarket shelves.
“One thing is that here in Barbados we take things for granted. [Dog dumpling flour is] one of the things I would like to see on the supermarket shelves; and a lot of these supermarkets don’t have a lot of local stuff that you can use. Right now I am doing some more research on [dog dumpling] with my colleagues. I sent ten pounds up to France to show how versatile this product can be and how we can use it in the actual cooking and baking,” the Turtle Beach chef said.
He admitted that he did not know how popular it would be with the French either.
“I don’t know if people would like it right away. I think they have to get accustomed to the taste, because they don’t like the smell of the fruit. These are rare fruits that we have here that we don’t like to use in anything. It is good for fevers and it is good for your medical health,” Beckles stressed.
And while this type of creative flour may be a bit strange to most locals, it is not to his students at the Barbados Community College where he has been a teacher since 2003.
“Right now I teach at Barbados Community College, the Hospitality Division, and there are a lot of things that I bring into the schools. Things that people don’t like to use like black pepper ice cream, aloe vera sorbet, curried ice cream and that sort of stuff. Whatever we have here that we can use, I like to incorporate in my cooking and baking,” he said.
Through teaching his students, Beckles plans to take culinary arts as far as he can.
“I would love to take it to another level, but you have to have people on board who want to actually use the fruit. I think chefs across Barbados need to stop being so selfish, share the knowledge, because we are not sharing the knowledge. We never have time to even go give a lecture to the school. I believe that they should give back.”
But he said that before any of this could take place, culinary arts needed to be taken more seriously.
“People in Barbados don’t take culinary arts as seriously as they should. A lot of people got their knowledge from overseas and they don’t want to share it with the new generation, and that is one of the things that is really hitting this country very hard. Right now, we are pegged back. We used to be at the forefront in culinary arts and right now we are way back. We are at least 20 years behind right now,” the chef and tutor added.
Beckles told Barbados TODAY that while it might not be as popular as he would like it, he did not regret his decision to go into his type of special baking.
“Why I seriously got into this is because my mum was a diabetic, and I had to basically cook for her. So there was a lot of things that I did research on that I found out these fruits have many things that could prolong people’s lives and so on. I started to get into it after that,” he explained.
Since making that decision to earnestly pursue pastry making, he has been doing it for ten years and has already started to see the benefits.
“There is just something about it –– something that I love. And I see the benefits of it, because between being involved in pastry and representing Barbados, it gives me a lot of time to move around and travel from country to country, learning much more about culinary arts,” he said.
Beckles has now gone from a young pastry chef into an established one who has ably represented his country.
“I represented Barbados for ten years with the culinary team with the BHTA but in 1984, I went to Canada to do some training with the Canadian Olympic team for the culinary arts Olympics. It has made me open up my eyes to a lot of things. They’re lots of things that grow in the country that we should actually be using that we don’t use,” he said.
“Culinary arts in Barbados can go so far!We just have to believe that it can and get more people on board.”