The fourth annual Best Bajan Cook competition got underway last Saturday at the Culinary Arena in the Newton Industrial Estate. This event will be the only live cooking competition of this year’s NIFCA Culinary Arts season, so I am happy to see that this element has been retained.
Sixteen passionate home cooks were chosen for the preliminary round of the event and they had the air of the Culinary Arena laced with the Barbadian smell of their creations which brought back memories of Sunday afternoons in by-gone Barbados.
The main ingredient chosen by participants in this first round was breadfruit, which was prepared in numerous different ways: from breadfruit with salt fish and, scalloped breadfruit with pan-seared fish, pickled cucumber, pear and tomato salad, to stew food including breadfruit, served with head-on flying fish and sop biscuits.
This well reflected the way we used to cook utilizing whatever produce was in season. What was noticeable about these dishes, though, was the way they were flavoured and seasoned, with limited use of our very popular Bajan seasoning blends. Instead, this season, our home cooks opted to go for the use of fresh herbs and, in some cases, preserved spices.
One competitor was even bold enough to feature pasta in his Bajan dish and we are not even referring to Macaroni pie, but to Linguine pasta that was cooked and seasoned with a pesto made from locally-grown and produced fresh herbs and oil. To my mind, this dish was a bit risky for this type of competition, but from all reports, the chicken with which it was served was to die for.
What was heartening to me as well was the way the fats and oils were used in combination with heat to accentuate the flavour of these herbs and spices, which is one of the tenants of Bajan cooking.
It was a pleasure to see an exhibition of cooking by practitioners who were not tampered with by the hotel industry and, therefore, executed cooking that was purely home-grown and clearly age-to-generation influenced, as the freestyle, free-spirited format of cooking was obvious to see in all rounds of the competition.
This style to which I refer is dominated by the dashes of this and bits of that, with skillful application of the natural senses which was handed down from our fore-parents, rather than a structured style which requires a more exact science with emphasis paid to weights, measures and other formal techniques.
This free style of cooking also has a major impact on the final presentation and although the term “nuff and rough”could be applied to Aunty’s or Granny’s meals, what was great to see was the evolution in presentations while maintaining the rustic character of the dishes. This means that there was none of the shaping and perfecting of the vegetables and root crops for the plates; the produce was merely peeled and cooked in its original shape before being readied for the plate.
The colours of the presentations also stood out with the vibrant greens of the okras and the bright orange of our local carrots, as well as the lively colours of peppers and onions being evident in dishes such as “From the seaside to the Countryside” featuring coconut-scented calypso rice, pan-seared Mahi Mahi,
herb-sautéed vegetables and pickled
The judges were heard to comment on the deep Bajan flavour which, along with the way in which the products are combined and cooked, would be one of the requirements to be met to move forward in this competition. By the time the dust had cleared and the intense debates were over, eight, I would have to say lucky, participants made it through to the semi-finals: Richard Barrow, Lester Moore, Kerry-Ann Walters, Andrew Williams, Caroline Mars-Yearwood, Tamara Thorpe, Kimberley Bourne and Susan Taylor.
The Best Bajan Cook semi-finals will take place tomorrow, Saturday, October 28, beginning at 11:30 a.m, when once again the Culinary Arena, Building #11, Newton Industrial Estate, will be ablaze with the sights, sounds and smells of a competitive kitchen, after which the top four performers will be chosen to advance to the Finals on November 11. So come out and witness these events, as I guarantee you that this is live cooking, definitely not to be missed.