The power of food

The importance that food and culinary culture play in our everyday lives can easily go unnoticed. Food is the celebrated or sometimes uncelebrated centre of every event. For every occasion, there is food of some sort.

When a child is born, there is a christening and there is food. When it’s your birthday, there is a party at which there is food. When you sit your first exam, or these days, even the Common Entrance or 11 Plus exam, there is a celebration and there is food.

When you graduate from secondary school or college, that is cause for celebration and there is food. If you are one of the fortunate ones to get married, there is a reception where there is food. We are not going to talk about sometimes celebrating the divorce; instead, let’s skip ahead to when you die. There is a wake and, again, there is food.

So you can see there is no escaping the importance of food in our everyday lives. So powerful is this commodity that it can shape the outcome of every one of these events. Imagine being served substandard quality food at any one of these events! You almost forget the occasion, as the discussion immediately goes to the quality of the offering.

Likewise, if the offering is fantastic, then the praises of the cook or chef will be heard for some time to come.Why am I making this point? It is to emphasize that there is no escaping the power of food and, therefore, all the more reason why the offerings should reflect who we are and hold strong to our origins and our culture.

All of this should be borne in mind as we prepare for an explosion of culture in all forms in Barbados later this year, with the hosting of the CARIFESTA event. CARIFESTA, for those of you who may not be culturally attuned, is the biggest cultural event in the Caribbean, where representatives from different regional countries travel to one location to display, highlight and sell their unique cultures.

This year, over 3,000 artistes and supporters will descend on Barbados to show off their varying cultures and it will be a most exciting occasion to experience the different lifestyles all in one space over a ten-day period. Not the least represented as far as culture is concerned is cuisine because, as you should be aware, Caribbean culinary culture or, in fact, the recognition of Caribbean culinary culture, is on the rise and it is left to us chefs from each territory to expose and teach this culture to all in attendance.

To assist in this, there will be a grand food court, with no less than ten chattel houses, from which representatives from each country will be able to cook and offer for sale their traditional dishes and, no doubt, styles of service. Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through the transformed car park of the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre and, every ten to twenty paces, experience a totally different Caribbean culinary offering?

This, I am sure, will be the highlight for all of our cooks and chefs as they attend this event. It will also be a huge learning experience because, from what I understand, knowledgeable chefs representing each country, will be on hand to explain the ingredients used, methods of preparation, as well as what makes the dishes unique to their respective countries.

What a way to increase your Caribbean culinary knowledge in a very short space of time without even leaving your location! What I am also excited about is the fact that the Caribbean Junior Culinary Conference (CJCC), which includes the Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge, will this year be a part of CARIFESTA. This will be a big thing for all of our junior aspiring chefs.

They will be able to draw from the knowledge and experience of a huge cadre of Caribbean chefs, as they plan their presentations and execute their masterpieces, especially in the National Dish segment of the competition. Eight islands have already confirmed that their junior teams will be attending this year’s event and we are expecting confirmation from another four islands, bringing to twelve the number of teams for this annual culinary competition.

Each year, these teams come to Barbados looking forward to the seminars and workshops which form part of the conference. These events are tailored-made for the junior culinarians and are conducted by specially selected culinary educators. This year, what will make it even more exciting, is the intended launch of a senior organization, the Caribbean Culinary Alliance, which will be a part of the CJCC.

This exposes even further our junior culinarians to the wealth of knowledge that our Caribbean chefs possess and have already agreed to share with our Caribbean youth. I am also very excited about this prospect as, to the best of my knowledge, this is the first attempt at launching an organization specifically for Caribbean chefs.

There will also be workshops and seminars designed for these seniors that will offer the opportunity to discuss the way forward for the Caribbean as a culinary destination. This is desperately needed as we continue to try to carve our indelible impression on the world culinary landscape.

This organization will be highly focused on the education and training of our Caribbean chefs. The first topic at the conference for these seniors will be Barbecuing and how it was first started here in the Caribbean. I bet you didn’t know that and are thinking that because of the way it has been embraced and marketed by our friends from the north, that it might have originated in a cold state, far, far away.

Now imagine all of this is only one element of this great CARIFESTA event.  For those of you who believe in our Caribbean culture and especially those who might need some convincing that we do indeed have a vibrant culture, this is definitely where you need to be between August 17 and 27.

(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.

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