It is always amazing to leave the culinary arena after the finals of the Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge (CJDC) competition and return a mere few hours later to a glitzed-up, glamourized and beautifully decorated space, befitting the event’s Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony.
It is almost as if by magic, the chef fairies come in and with a wave of their knives, change the culinary arena with its fully appointed kitchen boasting large and almost all types of small equipment imaginable, into a banquet hall. It’s a venue well suited for the talented junior chefs to be wined and dined, before receiving the prizes which they would have earned for their outstanding work demonstrated throughout this culinary competition.
This year, the 9th CJDC was host to nine teams, with those from the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands gracing the culinary arena for the first time in the competition’s history. While all teams come to this culinary contest with the hope of capturing the coveted CJDC title, it was obvious from the get go that these two teams were leaving nothing to chance.
Over the years we have witnessed the growth and development of the culinary prowess of the teams and each year, there is some aspect that just makes a particular team stand out, whether it is their technical skills, presentation, a method of preparation or even the use of a particular ingredient. For instance last year, the precision and unflustered, coordinated work styles of the Bahamas Team members created quite a spectacle for both judges and audience members alike. They raised the bar on their “wow factor” when they used cotton candy, made on the spot, as a garnish for one of their dishes.
Thanks to programmes such as the CJDC, many more people have become acquainted with some of the national dishes or popular food items of our Caribbean neighbours. However, a few years ago, all who witnessed Team Dominica prepare Titiwi in the National/ Signature Dish round, stood in awe and a little unsure about what they were seeing. First and foremost, most had never heard about Titiwi, but more importantly, the unique tale surrounding this fish ensured that Dominica captured the prize for the Best Use of an Indigenous Product.
This year, it was the turn of both the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands to captivate those in attendance, as both teams demonstrated outstanding knife skills and drew on what was easily recognized as their extensive flavour profiles, which led to the knowledgeable combination of ingredients for the best results in the taste and texture of their dishes.
While it is easy to see the outstanding qualities in various teams each year, these same qualities can’t be used to predict the outcome of the competition. As they say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating and this, combined with penalties for teams going into overtime, can make for unexpected results.
Take Team Dominica, for instance, they embraced the technique of smoking taught during the BBQ workshop. Looking on at their fabulous presentation and tasting the excellent flavours enhanced by the smoke, one would have predicted high scores. However, the loss of one point per minute for overtime moved them from gold medal contention and a possible spot in the finals.
At the end of this year’s National/ Signature Dish and the Mystery Basket rounds, the Cayman Islands, St. Lucia and the Turks and Caicos Islands had amassed the three highest combined scores and were declared the finalists of the 9th CJDC competition.
The eagerly anticipated results came at the Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony, following a keenly contested final. With the pomp and pageantry truly befitting a Gala, the evening began with the parade of flags, which tends to be an emotional experience for sponsors, specially invited guests and especially the members of the delegations, as they witness the flags representing the participating countries, being proudly brought into the banquet hall by a junior member from each delegation.
Competitors were treated to thunderous applause and congratulations as the list of awards read and the certificates of participation, medals, trophies and plaques presented to the junior chefs for their outstanding achievements.
· Best Overall Use of an Indigenous Product– Team Bahamas.
· Most Creative Dish– Team Turks & Caicos Islands.
· Best Media Presence & Flair– Carsim Birmingham of Team Dominica.
· Spirit of the Competition– Team St. Croix.
· Bronze Medalists:
Team Grenada – Kadija Thomas-Coy and Krystle Ann Neckles. Coach, Chef Aaron Johnson.
Team Trinidad & Tobago – Kadisha Sampson and Nicholas Punter. Coach, Ms. Tenille Durant.
· Silver Medalists:
Team Bahamas – T’Nique Brown and Rico Neely. Coaches, Chefs Carla Barr and Keisha Bonimy.
Team Barbados – Teana Hurley and Shamar Griffith. Coach, Mrs. Sonia St. Hill.
Team Dominica – Carsim Birmingham and Mailk Darroux. Coach, Mr. Bert Paul.
· Gold Medalists:
Team Cayman Islands – Brittney Bodden and Bradley McLauglin. Coach, Chef Thomas Tennant.
Team St. Croix – Raechel Nicks and Maasejah Browne. Coach, Ms. Elle Abraham.
Team Turks & Caicos Islands – Christin Green and Kentisha Hall. Coach, Chef Edwin Gallardo.
Team St. Lucia – Megan Felicien and Brittney Henry. Coach, Chef Billy Boyle.
2nd runners up – Team St. Lucia
1st runners up – Cayman Islands
….And the 9th Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge champions…Team Turks and Caicos Islands represented by Junior Chefs Christin Green and Kentisha Hall; Coach, Chef Edwin Gallardo and Team Manager, Ms. Nicholette Thomas.
This brought the curtain down on another exceptional year for the Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge.