The economic impact on culinary development

Each year, as we ease into the month of October it usually signals two things: one, that Christmas is fast approaching and two, that Barbados’ Independence is right around the corner.

Is it only me or is everyone of the opinion that the days are going by in double time? It seems like only yesterday that we were involved in big plans for our 50th anniversary of Independence and we’ve not yet recovered from those celebrations but here we are already preparing for the 51st.

It is no secret that I am a foodie and love all things food, especially those dishes which can be easily and readily identified as being steeped in the history and culture that shaped a particular nation.  Barbados’ Independence provides an opportunity to experience and celebrate such dishes and this is no more evident than in our National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) Culianry Arts Competition.

For years, the Culinary Arts Exhibition provided the avenue for Bajan food enthusiasts to  prepare and present their individual masterpieces, ranging from hot dishes to cakes and pastries, iced cakes, confectionaries, seasonings, preserves, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, to name a few. There was also the professional, as well as the non-professional cook-off for those bold enough to execute their skill while facing the public.

Even though it took quite some time for the powers that be to make the bold decision four years ago to have the event evolve into a Culinary Arts Arena and Expo, held at the Garfield Sobers Gymnasium, I was personally excited about this development because at long last the culinary arts was being elevated to the level of the other disciplines such as the performing arts, visual arts and the like.  Furthermore, they proved to be superb events which represented Barbados in all of its culinary glory.

So we all know about budget cuts and the economic situation, but my pain with this is that the culinary arts always seems to be the first to feel the slice, so sadly there will be no NIFCA Culinary Arts Arena and Expo and neither will there be a professional competition, which give the audience a chance to see the more seasoned cooks in action, as they use their creativity and innovativeness to try to enhance and promote our local cuisine. This was also the venue where the public got the chance to see most of the participants who represented Barbados in regional competition, in action.

Although one may understand the situation, I still see it as a serious blow to the growth of our culinary culture and do believe that much more could be done to save these events. Greater efforts should be made to engage the farmer and others in the agriculture sector, as well as the agro-processors, for products and produce.  Additionally, the approach to the food and beverage distributors needs to be restructured to compel them to understand that this industry is the one that they benefit heavily from and therefore they should in fact play a key role in its continuity.

In these days where food and culinary tourism have a crucial role in supporting many economies worldwide, I hardly think this is the correct time to be cutting or diminishing the importance of this art-form, especially since it is being seen more and more as the reason why people will travel to particular destinations. It also creates a challenge to the organizations that are working feverishly at trying to develop our culinary landscape, as NIFCA is the one event that has remained in place for over forty years and is, just like Crop-Over and Christmas, one of the truly Barbadian events that we look forward to annually.

In all of this sadness though, there is some joy; I am very happy and must compliment the NCF on retaining the Best Bajan Cook competition, which, along with the Culinary Arts Exhibition, will be the only culinary events taking place this year. So while I am mourning the absence of the professional competition, I am eagerly looking forward to what these truly Barbadian home cooks will provide for us, especially since what we have witnessed over the last three years from the participants is nothing short of amazing.

It is a pleasure watching the home cooks prepare their meals, using their herbs and spices, relying on their God-given senses as was done by our parents and grandparents years ago, enhancing their dishes with a pinch of this, a handful of that and a dusting of something else before the final taste, with all of this resulting in some of the most amazing Barbadian flavours that I have tasted in some time. This gives hope to the fact that our Bajan culinary culture still lives on through its flavours, but we must be cautious that when the budget cuts and economic crises occur that we don’t cut off the tentacle that not only made us who we are, but that can continue to propel us, even providing growth, if managed properly in these trying times.

So here is your opportunity to do your part in the upkeep and growth of this industry by attending the Exhibition which will be held at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre and in particular, the Best Bajan Cook competition which will be held at the Culinary Arena, The Dining Club, Newton.  October 21 and 28 are the dates for the Best Bajan Cook Preliminary and Semi-Final rounds respectively, while the Finals will be held on Saturday, November 11.

Source: (Peter Edey is a Worldchefs Certified Executive Chef; a Certified Executive Chef with the American Culinary Federation, a graduate of l’École Ritz Escoffier, Paris and a Certified Caribbean Hospitality Trainer peter@dcbar

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