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A Taste of the Caribbean
By

Mark Glass - Click to Enlarge
By Mark Glass

Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his practice with
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.  

As winter approaches here in the Midwest, it's time to start planning escape from the inevitable onslaught of wind-chill factors in our daily regimen. Images of azure waters lapping against sandy beaches, surrounded by palm trees swaying in warm, gentle breezes leap readily into one's consciousness. The word  "Caribbean" lags but a nanosecond behind the vision. The hard part is deciding which island to target for whatever respites you can afford.

Why not let your stomach decide?

That's what the Caribbean Culinary Federation had in mind, in starting its annual Taste of the Caribbean competition in 1994. For four days, teams from each of its twenty member countries converge to attend seminars and vie for prizes in various individual and group categories covering every aspect of food and beverage preparation. It's a challenge for the professionals, and a treat for those members of the public who attend, as well.

This year's event was held at Miami's Doral Golf Resort & Spa - the first time in the U.S. Each island's team is selected by preliminary competition among all the inn, resort and  hotel staffs in its territory. Several hundred pros ply their trade in aspects of cooking, drink mixing, and presentation.  

The most intriguing challenge is the "market basket" series of events. Teams are given an assortment of ingredients - unknown in advance - and a limited time to create a meal. The components will always be an array of local fish, meats, produce and spices. The goal is creativity in contemporary Caribbean Cuisine, defined by the Federation as, "a unique, evolving foodstyle... (which)  reinterprets the diverse foods traditional in Caribbean cultures, using modern culinary techniques and indigenous ingredients, with a demonstrated concern for health and nutritional values." Besides the obvious use of the ocean's bounty, and the region's unique cornucopia of exotic fruits and spices, some contests include lacto-ovo vegetarian fare, spa cuisine, and non-alcoholic mixed drinks.

Ready to salivate?

Here's a comparison of what two teams concocted from their baskets:

Team Aruba

Appetizer - ginger garlic seasoned seared shrimp, with a sweet potato (no "e", Mr. Quayle) romaine lettuce pionono, served on grouper vegetable saute, with a hot papaya passion fruit drizzle, balsamic vinegar reduction and fried basil leaf.

Entree - rubbed pork medallions and Creole stewed pork on fried funchi with christophine, celery and plantain in red pepper coulis and herb oil, sprinkled with roasted peanut pepper.

Dessert - allspice Pumpkin dessert on chocolate sponge cake, dusted with toasted almonds, with a starfruit banana salsa, served with mango and carrot lime sauces, topped with poached pumpkin and a cinnamon tuille crisp.

Team Bonaire

Appetizer - chilled timbale of steamed diced grouper with fresh herbs and bell peppers, topped with sautéed jerk-spiced shrimp, accompanied by a guava and red onion mojo dressing, over mixed greens and a yam chip garnish.

Entree - pork loin stewed with plantain and chayote, capers, raisins and bell peppers, with spiced rum, served with steamed pumpkin and callaloo and a side of pan-fried rice cake.

Dessert - sweet polenta with almonds and nutmeg, wrapped in a cinnamon crepe, with a watermelon gelatin and sauce of mango, passion fruit and lemon, topped with a pate a chou flamingo.

And now, for your palate-driven vacation plans, here are some of the winners:

Chef of the Year - Martin Maginay, SuperClubs Grand Lido Negril, Jamaica for "Sav La Mar Medley" - sauteed chicken breast with wild mushrooms, warm anato oil shrimp salsa and papaya marinated lamb skewer, on a bed of chocho, mint and beetroot slaw.

Most innovative Caribbean dish -  - Team BVI's avocado ice cream, with curried mango compote and coconut biscotti.

Pastry Chef of the Year - Linval Green, SuperClubs Sans Souci Lido Resort & Spa, Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Bartender if the Year - Ron Webster, Restaurant Ici, Sonesta Resort, Anguilla. He also won an additional award for Most Innovative Drink - cocktail featuring fireworks!

Curacao swept the team events, with Jamaica, the Bahamas, and Trinidad & Tobago also earning gold medals. Sixteen of the twenty competing countries received awards for not only food and drink, but also decorative categories - centerpieces and ice sculpting. In what might almost seem to be an act of heresy, Puerto Rico's William Collazo, from the El Marlin Restaurant, won in the category of Most creative Non-Rum Cocktail.

This annual Taste of the Caribbean exists primarily for the industry. Its seminars and workshops form a curriculum for participants to earn certificates in continuing education. It's also a trade show for suppliers to exhibit their merchandise. But the event is open to the public, and there are abundant opportunities for "foodies" to join in the fun. Many of the classes are open to registered visitors. Several demonstrations are designed for those who want an insider's view of their artistry. Tastings of the entries are frequent, along with various receptions and a blowout-closing banquet to cap the four days in grand style.

When I attended a couple of years ago, the opportunity to mingle with the chefs was almost as enjoyable as sampling their creations. Despite the grind of the events, camaraderie among the players was evident, as well as a gracious responsiveness to questions of interested amateurs. I earned my own stripes by agreeing to judge a tasting of all the islands' locally brewed beers (about 20)... starting at 9:00 on a Thursday morning. We picked a winner, but don't ask me which it was.

Typically, the CCF offers tourism packages (including accommodations) for those who wish to attend, or tickets for specific activities of interest. As we went to press, the dates and location for Taste 2000 hadn't been established, but we'll provide that in a future issue. Or, for further information about the organization and this year's results, check the Caribbean Culinary Foundation's website - http://www.caribbeanculinary.com.

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Email:  lotekguy@swbell.net (Mark Glass)

Mark Glass is a Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis. For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis area. (More about this writer.)

 

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