Barbados has all the right ingredients to make millions of dollars from food tourism.
Internationally acclaimed chef Michel Roux Jr, saying he was anxious to try pudding and souse and other indigenous dishes, expressed the view that feeding visitors what was Bajan was a recipe for success, something now being proven repeatedly in large and small destinations.
Roux, who runs the world-famous London restaurant Le Gavroche, which was founded by the Roux brothers – his father Albert and uncle Michel – in 1967, is in residence at Cobblers Cove until Saturday.
He was invited to Barbados by one of his several former Barbadian protégés, the St Peter hotel’s executive chef Michael Harrison, who disclosed that the property had started a number of programmes as it tried to cash in on the international food tourism boom.
Roux, who is main judge and host of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s popular MasterChef: The Professionals television show, and is on his first trip to the island accompanied by his wife Giselle, told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY Barbados becoming “a gastronomic destination” was “most definitely very important”.
“That’s part of the discovery. . . because if you eat the food that the locals eat, then you get to understand them and understand the culture and understand a lot more about the island and about the people. It would be a shame to come all the way over here and go and eat from a foreign fast-food place,” he said during an interview at Cobblers Cove.
“I believe, and maybe I am in the minority, that when you go to a destination to visit you should eat the local produce, what the local people eat and that’s part of the adventure as well of tourism. The last thing I would want to eat here is a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise. I want to eat local produce and I want to discover local food – that should be part of the experience.
“That is definitely something that you have to look out for, the food tourism, because if you can draw people into your island or draw people to your destination through food that’s great. If you take London, for example. London 20 years ago was a tourism destination to go and see the Changing Of The Guard, to go to the theatre, go and see the museums, all of that. Now, people are coming to London to still do all of that, but also to come and eat in a good restaurant,” he added.
Roux, whose French restaurant also provided training to other local chefs, including Guy Beasley and his wife Tammy, Gregory Austin and Angela Garraway-Holland, said he was impressed by the local produce he had sampled and used on the menus designed in partnership with Harrison.
“We have tasted some great spinach, some great chicken, some good eggs. There are some good basic vegetables. We had some very good fruit as well and, of course, some very good fish. Michael was telling me some of the local dishes use pig ears and pig tails, things that we love. That’s fantastic! In England people are still a little bit squeamish about that but not in France; they eat everything. But I want to try pudding and souse. It sounds good. We can’t wait,” he said.
A beaming Harrison called having Roux here “a big thing for Barbados, not just for Cobblers Cove”, and endorsed the view that food tourism was a future major money earner for Barbados.
“Food tourism is big all over the world. You go to some hotels and you are getting cooking classes, you are getting tours. I think it’s important that the guests experience our culture and our indigenous products, and ingredients and foods,” he said.
Tour with fisherman
“Here at Cobblers Cove we do some tours. We have one tour with a fisherman. His name is Barker and he takes guests out in his small boat at six in the morning. The guests return with their catch and I prepare it in whatever style they want to have it done.
“It’s beautiful, the guests all love it. We have a tour as well where I take guests to the market on Saturday’s. I drive the company van so it’s all about the chef taking the guests to the market and it’s where they see the locals shopping for their vegetables. They experience the colours, the smell, the vibe, the feel, and there is nothing more Bajan than a market on Saturday morning.
“We buy some vegetables from each of the hawkers and then we go to the fish market as well. A week ago we had some guests who tried shark for the first time,” he added.
After that, Harrison noted, it was off to a rum shop where pudding and souse and different Barbadian foods were shared and then back to the hotel where the local produced purchased earlier in the market was prepared and consumed.
“You couldn’t want any better food tourism than that really,” Harrison said, noting such programmes would continue and others would be established.