The BVI National Culinary Team returned home with the gold and broad smiles on their faces from The Taste of the Caribbean 2011 competition, a showcase of Caribbean cuisine, held in Miami this past June. The BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association partners with the BVI Tourist Board and local businesses annually to select and sponsor a national culinary team to compete with as many as sixteen other Caribbean countries. This year the team members also participated in various individual competitions such as Seafood, Beef, Pastry and Ice Carving. They won medals in all. In 2010, the Junior Chef competition was added to the event and each team recruited an aspiring chef under the age of 21 to join them. Our Junior Chef, Mikhala Bagot, won a gold medal for the meal she produced and also another gold medal for Junior Chef of the year. All chefs, coaches and the committee chairman volunteer numerous hours each week during the year in preparation for this culinary Olympics.
Such an impressive achievement comes with lots of hard work, planning and fund raising. A major source of funding for the team is derived from a series of dinners held throughout the BVI during the year to give these top chefs the ongoing opportunity to practice together, display their talent and develop as a team. From January to June, residents and guests are treated to fancy foods and groovy libations. The Chamber of Commerce schedules three course dinners twice a month at restaurants on Tortola, Peter Island, Scrub Island and Virgin Gorda. Often times the head chefs of participating venues are past medal winners themselves and lend valuable expertise. The team meets the Saturday before each dinner and brainstorms all sorts of food combinations and accompanying drinks. Chefs bring in different offerings: shadow benny from Imran Ashton's garden; George Chapdelaine, the Culinary Committee's chairman, secures information bush, lemon grass, bread fruit, mangos, and basil from the farmers in Carrot Bay. Ideas are tossed around like the best salad. Elton "All Out" Sprauve, winner of the most creative (non-alcoholic) drink at the 2010 Taste of the Caribbean holds court introducing his latest elixir for fellow teammates to sample. Menus start to take shape.
Dr. Birney Harrigan, Chairman of the BVI Chamber of Commerce and Hotel Association, has for the last four years, encouraged and fostered a partnership between not only team members and sponsors but the community at large. She sees the BVICCHA as a marketing tool for the team and the territory. The most visible result of this effort is the turnout for these bi-monthly gastro adventures. Guests at each dinner are given score sheets and pencils and asked to critique and rate each course and libation on appearance, color, texture, taste and creativity and Caribbean originality. A spokesperson is selected from each table to share their comments. The chefs, assembled before the crowd, listen and answer various menu questions. Information gathered from the questions asked and the score sheets, which are collected after each dinner, are learning tools for the next dinner. The day before a scheduled dinner you'll find George Chapdelaine and often times team coach Henry Prince combing the aisles of Rite Way supermarket. Their go-to people at the supermarket, Jeremiah Rogers in the produce department and butcher Lawrence Stout, not only make sure they find what they need, but do so with pride knowing they're helping the team. Also the venues that host these dinners and their staff give an all out effort as if to say "no worries, we've got you covered." The dinners provide an opportunity for the team chefs to coalesce their talents and then produce templates or recipes to be used in competition. Ok, so the haute cuisine and exotic libations are out of this world, still, there is so much more happening at these gatherings.
These dinners have developed quite the following and the groundswell of support for the team begets a bright social energy and enthusiasm that's contagious for all who attend. One team supporter, Mrs. Celia Georges, a teacher at the Elmore Stoutt High School for 22 years and who was a former teacher of team Captain Kenneth Molyneaux commented "when you go out to a fancy restaurant, you have to pay for the meal whether you liked it or not, unlike these culinary dinners where you can critique your meal with the chef. Mrs. Georges, who considers herself quite accomplished in the kitchen, was very excited by the way the chefs combined local vegetables and meats in ways she had never imagined. "When funds are scarce and you can be creative with the things that grow and thrive around you, it takes very little to create something exciting," she calls this theory "fixing up my wilderness." Mrs. Georges also believes that taking an evening boat ride from Tortola to dinner locations like Peter Island is quite a charm.
Ken Molyneaux, feels like the whole country is behind the team. Sitting by the water outside Sappy's Café in Carrot Bay he looks around and adds, "there are many young people right here (in Carrot Bay) that want to be chefs, the passion is spreading." Pastry Chef Ansony Salmon would love to see the team offer cooking classes. The whole team is excited about the possibilities of outreach. Observing these young professionals reinforces the richness of the pool of talent here in the BVI and is a testament to the remarkable work that a small team of committed individuals can accomplish.
Yeah Baby, WE Got The Gold!
The BVI National Culinary Team members are: Coach Henry Prince H.Lavity Stoutt Community College (HLSCC), and the following chefs, Team Captain Kenneth Molyneaux from Treasure Isle Hotel, Imran Ashton from The Moorings, Caswell Pondt from Little Dix Bay Resort, Pastry Chefs Ansony Salmon from Peter Island Resort & Spa, Macgarvey Thompson HLSCC's Road Town Bakery, Bar Chef Elton "All Out" Sprauve from Mind Shaft Café, Junior Chefs Mikhala Bagot and Brentfield Lettsome from HLSCC, Jason Dalmida Jr. from Bitter End Yacht Club and Culinary Committee Chairman George Chapdelaine.