VIDEO: Jamaica Tastes Multiple Victories
It was a bumper year for Jamaica at the Taste of the Caribbean Culinary Competition held in Miami June 28 - July 2. Team Jamaica took home several top honours in the prestigious culinary competition, winning 10 medals in all, four of which were gold.
"This is the best showing Jamaica's ever had in terms of quality of medals," said Dennis McIntosh, president of the Culinary Federation of Jamaica, the governing body that helped prepare the Jamaican team for the competition. "We've won more individual medals [in the past], but this is a big improvement in the quality of medals."
Gold medal winners included Rohan Henry of Couples Tower Isle for the ice carving competition; Richard Pinnock of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel for the beef competition; Sandals Royal Plantation's Sanju Smith won for Junior Chef of the Year, and each member of the contingent was awarded gold for the team competition. Smith's win makes him the first Jamaican to take home the Junior Chef of the Year Award.
Smith was unguardedly excited about taking home the top honour in his category, but also expressed enormous gratitude for having been chosen to represent his country at the grand event.
"It has been a wonderful experience," the young chef explained to Thursday Life. "I am proud to have been in that setting, to share among Caribbean islands the one thing that we share most -- food."
Also of note is Couples Sans Souci's Teresa Clarke, who is the only member of the team to have already participated in the competition. Clarke had won in the cheesecake category last year for her culturally redolent ackee and salt fish cheesecake. She took home silver this year in the pastry chef of the year category. An incredible distinction amongst a field of 10 other Caribbean nation representatives vying for the top honour, but the enterprising Clarke has a taste for gold.
"I've been there last year and went back this year -- it was really a great feeling," she explained before adding: "I could have done better, but maybe next year I'll do a better job."
Jamaica is brimming with culinary promise, according to McIntosh, and the key to encouraging the growth of our industry is to establish reliable avenues for sponsorship, mentorship and management for our young talent. He and team manager Kenrick Stewart are particularly thankful for sponsors such as the Tourism Enhancement Fund and the Best Dressed Chicken that played a major role in funding the team's participation in the competition.
"We have to unearth the talent, nurture the talent, expose the talent, and we'll get the rewards," McIntosh explained.
Of course, a lot of the onus is on the chefs, as well. Winning a medal is just the beginning, The Culinary Federation president asserted. If our top chefs are serious about raising brand Jamaica on the world stage of cuisine, they must be prepared to reinvent ways of applying the Jamaican mark to almost any culinary template.
"I tell [the chefs] all the time, anything you can do with a potato, you can do with breadfruit," he said. "We've got to become very creative."
It's been happening for some years now -- through the media, through music and through tourism, but the world is becoming increasingly familiar with the notion of Jamaican cuisine, and McIntosh is convinced the primary barrier to capitalising on this interest is our creativity.
"There are 30 million out there that want what we have, and we've just got to find a way," he said, "to package that properly, professionally and deliver it day in, day out."