Allow me to introduce myself! I am Peter Edey, an American Culinary Federation-certified Executive Chef and a graduate of the l’École Ritz Escoffier Paris.
I am honoured to have the opportunity to write a weekly column for this very popular online newspaper, Barbados TODAY.
In this column, we will be focusing on Barbadian and Caribbean food as it relates to our developing culture because, as I always say, our culinary culture is one of the last true and unadulterated cultures which we have remaining.
Twelve years ago, I began a series of television shows, intending to rekindle the love older Bajans have always had for our traditional food and showing how creative any enthusiast could be, once they got started.
Cooking the Bajan Way ran for two very successful seasons. I have to admit that it felt great to be complimented on what was universally described as “a wonderful show”, but even more thrilling than that, was the humility I felt at being told that it was a very important event in the eyes of so many Barbadians.
Fueled with this enthusiasm, our next series, The Duelling Chefs, targeted local cooks and chefs in the industry and I was excited at the prospect of being presented with new looks and ideas based on our culinary culture, while staying true to the roots of what made our cuisine what it was.
To my disappointment, none of the flavours, textures, colours or aromas of our local cuisine was presented on the plate. What I got instead, was weak replicas and off balanced blends of American and European dishes. It was at this point it became sadly evident that we were deep into a serious culinary crisis.
I had noticed there was an embracing of other food cultures, not only at the fine dining level, but it had also infiltrated the fast food offerings. The only sectors that remained true to the culture were Pudding and Souse Saturdays and the Baxter’s Road fish fry weekends.
There was a definite move away from old time favourites, so much so, that if you called the names of many of the classic dishes and sweets my generation grew up with, young people were at a loss as to what you were talking about – they were clueless.
In fact, a story was related to me in which a child was asked to name the national dish of Barbados. The response was “Macaroni pie and fried chicken”. I was determined that as long as it was within my power, that this should not continue.
This gave birth to the plan of attacking the problem at its root and response was the launch of the Junior Duelling Challenge. In this junior version of the programme, students were taught the technical skills such as chopping, dicing and slicing and introduced to classical cooking techniques through three months of intense training.
Afterwards, they were given a kitchen filled with local products and produce and asked to produce a dish that represented Barbados. Mind you, these young people had not yet been influenced by the industry as they were still in secondary school. The only influence they would have had was that of their parents and guardians and the way meals were prepared in their home kitchen.
The presentations were nothing short of magical. The creativity and imagination of these young people were amazing and even more pleasing was the fact that the flavours and appearances were exactly like you would have found in the home of any older Barbadian.
The aromas brought back memories of a walk down a Bajan street any Sunday of the year, where you could almost taste and easily identify who was cooking and what they were cooking, just by those aromas which wafted across the neighbourhood.
The Junior Duelling Challenge is now in its 12th year and I am happy to say there has been a change in the way local food is being viewed and prepared, especially by those in the industry, as now we can hear a loud buzz about the offerings in our local hotels and restaurants and by the chefs, some of whom participated in that first competition.
It is most pleasing to see that the crisis has taken a turn for the better and the cooks and chefs have become very aware of the fact that we have to regain and preserve our culinary culture, especially as it is being aggressively challenged and adulterated by foreign entities who have the attention of the eyes and ears of the wider world.
It has become abundantly clear to all that the responsibility lies with us to make sure this culture remains authentic and is presented to the world in its evolving but yet genuine form. This emphasizes the power of our youth and the influence they have on what we cook and consume, as well as the hunger they possess to learn more about what is naturally theirs.
We will continue to explore our culinary evolution in the coming weeks, as we reflect on the 50th anniversary of Barbados’ Independence, food festivals on the island and, of course, as we prepare for Christmas.
We will also have weekly recipes which you can add to your collection of Bajan favourites.