It’s hard enough to compete against countries around the region, but for members of the Bahamas National Culinary Team the real battle is beating themselves – the champions.
Since January, the 10-member team has been practicing in its top-secret location to prepare for the Caribbean Tourism and Hotel Association’s annual Taste of the Caribbean competition that will be held at the Hyatt Miami Regency from June 8 -10.
Culinary ambassadors from countries, Anguilla, The Bahamas, Barbados, Bonaire, the British Virgin Islands, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and The US Virgin Islands will go head to head in no holds barred bartending and cooking competitions.
As the defending champions, The Bahamas has to prove that it can hold on to the title and beat its scores from last year.
Manager of the Bahamas National Culinary Team 18-year veteran Chef Ron Johnson said the team has constantly been experimenting with flavours to ensure that this happens.
“We wanted to take a different direction. Last year was pretty good but we took notes of how we can improve as we analyzed last year. This year, we wanted to exceed what we did. It is tougher to do that because we are being more critical on ourselves,” he said.
“The approach is a little bit slower but more rigorous. The dishes are more complex, but tasty. This is what is going to separate us from the other dishes. We are going to be highlighting traditional Bahamian foods but serving them in a unique way.
“My goal is to sweep the entire competition. I feel confident that these dishes will blow away the competition in certain categories. Our goal is to beat last year because we set the bar so high that it made some teams want to come back. So we have to find a way to beat ourselves.”
Co-Captain of the team Chef Sheldon Tracey Sweeting has been the Pastry Chef of the Year for the past three years.
But this year, the veteran chef has decided to go into the competition for Chef of the Year.
He says his anticipation is high because it would be his first time competing for this honor.
“I was going to retire, but something was just nudging in my spirit to do this one more time. I’ve never cooked so we will see what they say when it is all said and done because I am not a pastry chef. Pastries are just a hobby for me. People always said that I have a steady hand and I can create. But I love to cook and I create with food. Our goal is to beat the team that won last year and the team so happens to be Team Bahamas. We are trying to surpass what we did last year. Last year we had the highest score ever and we want to beat ourselves.”
Mixologist Marv Cunningham is currently the competition’s Bartender of the Year Champion.
Cunningham is a force to be reckoned with and has participated in Bartending competitions all over the world.
During the competition, he will have the task of creating a non-alcoholic drink, a rum drink and a drink made from ingredients in the competition’s mystery basket.
“The mindset is repeat and exceed last year’s performance. This year I am going to do a play on a classic drink – the Bloody Mary. There are over 1,000 variations of a Bloody Mary. I’m pushing the limits. It can either make me or break me,” Cunningham said.
“I think like a chef when I create. I’ve played around with everything. But my favourite is sour sop and dilly. But what inspires me is my wife and kids because I make things they enjoy. To prepare for the mystery basket I let the chefs bring me whatever and I make a drink out of that. It would good to have a clean sweep. I spoke to a lot of island folks so I am hoping to give the judges a real great taste of The Bahamas.”
All three culinary artists will be entering the Taste of the Caribbean for the final time and will spend time mentoring others to take on pivotal roles on the Bahamas National Culinary Team.
This year’s team includes Johnson, Sweeting, Cunningham, Chef Charon McKenzie, Richmond Fowler II, Jamal Small, Shelby Coleby, Leonardis Moss, Marvonne Thurston and Savannah Adderley.
The Ministry of Tourism is a sponsor of the team.
Culinary Manager at the Ministry of Tourism DeAnne Gibson said it is important the ministry is proud of this year’s team.
“The Ministry of Tourism has always seen it necessary to sponsor the Bahamas National Culinary Team as food is such a huge part of tourism,” she said.
“This year’s team is exceptional and I am sure the region will marvel at their artistry and skill. We look forward to supporting them throughout the competition.”
Other sponsors include Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association, Cable Bahamas, Lyford Cay Club, RBC Royal Bank, Bahamian Brewery, Bahamas Food Services, John Watlings, Bahamasair, Atlantis Paradise Island, Albany Private Club, One and Only Club, Savory Art, Le Sprouts Private Catering and the College of The Bahamas.