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Taste for culinary tourism


GERCINE CARTER

Taste for culinary tourism

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There is more than a hint of excitement in her voice when Michelle Smith-Mayers speaks about the Barbados Culinary Team’s participation in the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s annual Taste Of The Caribbean competition.The assistant executive vice president of the Barbados Hotel and Tourism Association (BHTA) has been dynamic in her approach to the job of managing the programme in which Barbados has successfully participated.“We have been doing this for some time now. What we try to do is to use it for development, not necessarily to go to competition for our team to win gold medals, although we like gold medals, but we try to use this process to develop our team and to develop our young people in Barbados who are the future of our culinary industry,” said Smith-Mayers.“We have decided as a tourism industry that culinary tourism is a niche market that Barbados can actively go after and tap because not only do we have a large number of restaurants offering all types of cuisines, but Barbados’ culinary heritage is very rich.“The Barbados culinary team is very important therefore in helping Barbados to tap into the niche market possibilities of epicurean and culinary tourism.”Last year the BHTA paired with NIFCA “because one of the things we wanted to do was to raise the standards of the NIFCA Culinary Competition and to increase the number of people actually coming into competition”, Smith-Mayers said.The top people emerging from that competition make up the team representing Barbados at the Taste Of The Caribbean competition taking place in Puerto Rico from September 9 to12.With only five weeks to prepare, the team is undergoing intensive training.Smith-Mayers has managed to draw on the expertise of top chefs in Barbados, expatriates like chefs Dominic and Alejandro Palmer, along with experienced local chefs like Graham Licorish and Peter Edey, one of the training managers for the team, to teach the skills required for the competition.She is focusing on succession planning as it relates to the Barbados culinary team, with past team managers now functioning as trainers and managers, rather than going into the kitchen.Funding continues to be a major headache, and Smith-Mayers talked about the challenge to fund this year’s $50 000 undertaking. The public gourmet dinners and lunches for which the culinary team prepares offset some of the costs. Hotels and restaurants support the process, allowing use of facilities for hosting gourmet evenings and training sessions, also granting participating staff the time to undergo training, and Smith-Mayers is grateful for this. There are also donations from food suppliers.“But we would like more support”, said Smith-Mayers. She has seen participation grow and hotels compete to recruit participants who have had the Taste Of The Caribbean exposure.“There is a lot of support for it. Monetarily we would like to have  a little bit more support mainly from the suppliers to the industry.”Sponsorship therefore is identified as a key element in the BHTA’s ability to send the team to the competition year after year.“You now have people making career choices to come into the culinary arts and what they don’t realise is that there is a whole lot of money to be made in this,” said the BHTA official.She is herself sometimes teased as “Chef Michelle” and admits the culinary field was her first career choice, though she chose business in the end.“Taste Of The Caribbean is supposed to add to the body of knowledge that is Caribbean cuisine…it is supposed to celebrate Caribbean cuisine and to provide a development platform for the chefs in the Caribbean,” she said.

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