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Patrons visiting Hilton Barbados yesterday to take in the talents at the NIFCA Culinary Arts Exhibition And Cook-off were not disappointed. The exhibition featured a wide array of cakes, pastries, juices, wines and sauces that were awarded gold, silver or bronze. Sandra Clarke-Phillips, coordinator of the event, said she was pleased with the participation – 125 entries by first-timers, schools and groups. In addition, there were a couple of booths with specialty dishes featuring Independence tributes. “The different categories have different criteria. Desserts, beverages, entrées, batters and dough are judged for taste, texture, consistency and clarity.” Clarke-Phillips said she was also pleased to see the creativity of the participants in the use of local foods and ingredients. “This year we had more than last year and we are pleased with the innovativeness of some of the entrants,” she said, pointing out the golden apple conkies, soursop jam and sweet potato cookies. One booth that drew many eyes was the pastry booth of Ezra Beckles, executive pastry chef at Turtle Beach Hotel, who has been in the business for 20-odd years and entering the culinary competition “since it was at the Steel Shed. I only missed one year”. The booth, not offering any samplings, had mocha mousse cake, homemade chocolates of passion fruit, white pepper and spices, croissants, danishes and an old-time chattel house made of only granulated sugar and egg whites. Milton Lynch Primary School did a tribute to breadfruit. The table was laden with pones, muffins, pancakes and bakes. Karen Pilgrim, a worker in the School Meals Department who offered the gold award-winning Breadfruit Granburger Pie, was pleased with the efforts of the team. Alma Parris Memorial Secondary School were first-timers in the Beverages and Preserve categories and got eight of ten medals – two gold, five silver and a bronze. Teacher Cheryl Went was giddy with the wins, collecting the cards with the stickers on them. Bernice Chase, another first-timer, won four golds, five silvers and six bronze in the Bread and Preserve categories. Using all local ingredients and pursulane – a weed that she said was really a leafy vegetable – as her main ingredient, she baked from Thursday night into Friday morning for yesterday’s 9 a.m. opening. The cook-off saw 14 chefs, five of them pastry chefs who competed in a separate event. The remaining nine had to prepare dishes in front of an appreciative audience using ingredients from a community kitchen as well as a mystery basket revealed during the competition. There was chopping and dicing, sautéing and blending, as aroma after aroma filled the air along with the “oohs” and “aahs” from an audience eagerly waiting to sample the finished dishes. Judges Angela Garroway, Henderson Butcher, Glenroy Alleyne and Lisa Small ensured that procedures – timing, coordination, skills and organization – were followed and adhered to.