I am writing this week from a very happy and optimistic position. April 1 sees the end of the first Barbados Sugar and Rum Season and for me it is indeed an All Fools Day to be proud of, as there was no fooling around in this new event which was conceptualized and coordinated by the Barbados Tourism Product Authority.
The Barbados Sugar and Rum Season would have had its learning curves, like the first of any other major event, but even with that you can clearly see how it will quickly grow into a key calendar event as far as culinary tourism is concerned. I consider myself an “ultimate foodie” and for those of you who may not recognize my jargon, that is a person who travels all over just for the food experience. On reaching your destination, you immediately submerge yourself in everything that is local, and having an event designed specially to meet those requirements is what emphatically says ‘welcome to our culture’. That is exactly what I felt over the last two months.
The Barbados Sugar and Rum Season captured real Barbados, with events tried and tested and new ones beautifully blended to create that experience that threw you back to the Barbados of yesteryear. One of the early events that I attended was merged with another classical Barbadian event, Agrofest, and was used to inform Barbadians that there was such an event and enlighten them about all the activities that would be taking place. There was also the From Barrel to Bottle rum tour with the most knowledgeable historian Morris Greenside, which started at Pebbles Beach and made its way through Bridgetown, as you gained all sorts of information about sugar and rum along the way. Then there were the Mixology Roadshows, where local bartenders got the chance in a natural setting, totally un-staged, to show off their skills and expose us to the number of ways in which sugar and rum could be used. There were also the themed lunches and dinners where our grass root products were used and showcased in the most delicious ways for locals and visitors to enjoy. One cannot forget the rum factory tours at venues such as Foursquare and Mount Gay which also included sampling and education about that golden liquor. By the time they were done, it was made clear how this beverage could be most stimulating, even medicinal, but most of all, totally enjoyed if consumed responsibly and savoured with the respect and appreciation with which it was made.
One event which really captured my interest was the chocolate class, as I was waiting with bated breath to see how chocolate would have fit in as a part of a Barbados event. I must say here, that after hearing the history of Barbados and chocolate and having the linkages clarified, I was fully enlightened. Unfortunately, as a result of a scheduling mishap on my part, I didn’t get a chance participate in the tour to the Morgan Lewis Windmill, the only intact sugar mill in Barbados. I was reliably informed that this event took people on a tour of the mill, hard hat and all, following a lecture which was reportedly of the highest standard. This of course is now on my must to-do list for next season.
What I didn’t miss, though, was that lecture, Rum and Sugar: A tale of Two Colonies, which was masterfully delivered by Professor Henry Fraser. Ok, he doesn’t know who the real rum chef is, but we will give him a break for that. Credit here too must be given to Richard Seale who, though not the official presenter, contributed quite a bit of history about our golden product.
I deliberately left as my final two, the events in which I was directly involved –the Sugar and Rum cooking classes and the Speightstown Sizzlin’ BBQ demo. There were lunch and dinner classes which started with the history of our food and how it remains truly our most untouched culture; its beginnings that go all the way back to the days of slavery; the influences that make us eat and drink the way we do; where we are today; and what we must do to maintain our culinary culture as we move forward. After all of this was the cooking, because, as the old folks say, the proof is truly in the pot.
The Speightstown Sizzlin’ BBQ was a prelude to what is to come in the form of a national BBQ and which is expected to be a major part of the Barbados Sugar and Rum Season come next year, so look out for it. A synopsis was given as to why BBQ is as much our own here in the Caribbean as anywhere else in the world, since it speaks to the way we cooked prior to the days of slavery.
Though totally impressed, I am not at all surprised by the success of the inaugural Barbados Sugar and Rum Season, as I had attended its launch at the Sunbury Great House sometime back in early February and heard the most enthusiastic presentation by one of the people behind the event, the CEO of the Barbados Tourism Product Authority Dr Kerry Hall. The passion with which she spoke belied her apparent young age and the conviction with which it was disseminated all came to life throughout the season.
What is very commendable and showed immense conviction to the product was the fact that it was made a season and not just a weekend festival. This bears witness to the belief and commitment this organization has to our food, sugar and rum culture.
Having been asked to be involved in the execution of this first Barbados Sugar and Rum Season, I had the same exact feeling which existed at the climax of the first Agrofest, as a member of the event’s planning committee since its inception 13 years ago. I mentioned in a previous article that the chairman of the planning committee asked what we were going to do after a first year that did not meet his expectations and my response was “. . . take a break and then start planning for next year. . . ”, as I was confident and felt with every bone in my body that the event, because of its nature, would be a major one in Barbados. Minus the scepticism shown by the chairman, the feeling was exactly the same for me at the climax of the , and what I am sure will make this event grow even faster and larger is the enthusiasm and conviction of all concerned. They’ve touched on every tentacle that would stimulate the feeling of Barbados’ culture to all who might participate, as they were present in their numbers and fully participating in every one of the events.
Today, we share with you a short video, to give you a taste of what you missed by not attending the cooking classes, showing one of our groups preparing a roasted cinnamon sugar pumpkin soup.
(Peter Edey is a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer email@example.com)