We’ve come to the end of yet another year and having to gather information for this column has forced me to take my head from being buried in the kitchen, where it usually is, to pay closer attention to culinary events which took place throughout the year.
What has been made very obvious to me is that there is no shortage of these events each year; how effective some of them are, remains questionable, as far too often some of them were used by promoters purely for entertainment or just to assist in raising a quick dollar, totally discrediting the integrity of this artform.
There were others, however, which were well organized and in some way enhanced the life of this craft and it is these that I will make mention of as we review what took place on the culinary landscape in 2017.
After our New Year’s champagne and caviar for those who could afford it, or for the folk like me, a good ham cutter and fishcake New Year’s breakfast with a hot cup of cocoa or tea, we headed straight into the first major event which was the inaugural Barbados Sugar and Rum Season.
I like the structure of this event, as what it seeks to do, instead of trying to develop something new and different, which is not always easy, is chose a number of already established Bajan events and bring them under one umbrella as a season.
Of course, food and drink featured heavily in this season with Bajan cooking classes, dinners, mixology road shows and chocolate demos and sampling. This is one to look out for in 2018 and I can tell you that some new and exciting events have been added, as plans are already well underway for Season 2.
In the midst of the Sugar and Rum Season, was the 13th edition of AGROFEST; this drew thousands of people to Queen’s Park as usual and all types of Bajan fare could be purchased throughout the length and breadth of the Park.
This did not stop at food, however, as the rows of candies, confectioneries, caramelized corn and sweet preserved nuts were readily available for purchase. We also witnessed a number of cooking demonstrations which have become very popular, as AGROFEST continues to keep the Barbadian culture alive and encourage by exhibiting, the origins of Barbadian meats and produce.
Then there was the Taste of the Caribbean, which always provides good inspiration for young and prospective chefs and offers them one of the few opportunities to travel overseas to gain experience and compete against their regional counterparts. This year, Barbados did very well coming away with the title of Bartender of the Year, as well as the highly coveted Team of the Year.
2017 also saw the launch of the Caribbean Culinary Alliance (CCA); this initiative, spearheaded by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and including the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), seeks to bring Caribbean chefs and farmers closer together. Its intention is also to provide a platform for the training and further development of Caribbean chefs through the creation of a certification and accreditation process, something which has been sadly lacking in this region for years.
This launch took place during the 4th Caribbean Junior Culinary Conference (CJCC) which once again brought together our region’s youth to demonstrate and exchange techniques and national dishes they would have learnt from professionals in their respective regions; it also offers an opportunity for the young cooks to experience the different styles of cooking available across the region. This year saw new teams competing for the first time, namely the Turks and Caicos Islands and the Cayman Islands, who came so prepared that they eventually dethroned the perennial favourites Barbados and St Lucia, to capture this year’s title of Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge champions. Additionally, it was a week loaded with information and education about their chosen career for the nearly 50 delegates who attended from the Bahamas, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, St Croix, St Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Turks and Caicos Islands and hosts Barbados. This year provided even greater cultural exposure for them as the CJCC was a part of CARIFESTA XIII, which too included its share of regional cuisine.
In October, a team from Barbados travelled to Abu Dhabi for WorldSkills, which at this time can only be seen as developmental, as there is still quite a bit to be done before we can get anywhere close to the standards that are set for this competition. It also emphasizes that those involved in organizing any form of training of our participants need to travel to more events like these as it is difficult for them to understand what is expected of them unless they do so. This clarifies what my grandmother always used to say to me, “You don’t know what you don’t know”, so we can only continue to work with our youth towards achieving this standard.
The NIFCA Culinary Arts rolled around again this year, without the elaborate fanfare of the last two years and losing some of its live cooking events. What remained, however, was the Best Bajan Cook competition and I must say that this year was by far the best season, with the creativity and imagination that went into restructuring our local cuisine, really reaching its peak. The eventual winner was Andrew Williams with his “246” dish; he, by the way, was the first male to win this competition in its four-year history.
There was also the Barbados Food and Rum Festival. Despite the many changes it has gone through in its history, I am still not sure exactly what this festival provides as far as our culinary or national cuisine is concerned, but I guess it will continue to be a work in progress.
So this brings to an end, except for our still to come Christmas celebrations and Old Year’s Night events, our major culinary offerings for 2017. I think they were all good events and overall, lent assistance in keeping our culinary culture alive.
On reflection, I must say that I am satisfied with the direction in which our culinary culture is going and look forward to playing my part once again next year, in contributing to and highlighting what is happening in my very beloved profession.
A very Merry Christmas to all!!!!