Belizean Chefs Win Prestigious International Awards
a: going beyond what is usual, regular or customary
b: exceptional to a very marked extent
remarkable, exceptional, amazing, astonishing, astounding, marvelous, wonderful, sensational, stunning, incredible, unbelievable, miraculous, phenomenal, prodigious, spectacular;
There are many things about Belize that are extraordinary, be it the stunning natural beauty, the easygoing friendliness of the people, the diverse landscapes and a rich, colorful history that evolved into today’s harmonious multicultural society.
Talk of evolution brings another aspect of Belize to mind – the country’s growing reputation as a foodie’s paradise, a culinary capitol, a gourmand ’s gateway to epicurean excellence, you might say.
For the less verbose, you can simply take any one of the synonyms listed above and apply it to contemporary Belizean cuisine. In fact, it would be a safe bet that someone, at some time, used one of those words to describe a meal they enjoyed in Belize.
But don’t take our word for it – ask the experts in Florida who recently bestowed some tasty awards on Belizean chefs at the “Taste of the Caribbean” competition held June 22 – 26 2018 at the Hyatt Regency Miami.
Organized by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association as “the region’s premier culinary competition,” the annual event, begun in 1993, drew some heavy hitters from throughout the Caribbean region this year, with Belize, for the first time since 2003, joining top chefs from the Virgin Islands, Bonaire, Surinam, St Lucia, Barbados, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, and other island nations.
Competing against such talent and experience must have been daunting, but Team Belize rose to the challenge and brought home the bacon in the form of several awards, including a silver medal in overall competition, and a hat-trick of bronze in the “Chef of the Year”, “Pastry Chef” and “Bartender” categories.
Not bad for a country that hasn’t competed for fifteen years…
The Belizean delegation consisted of Chef Robertus Pronk, Eva Longsworth, Sean Kuylen, Maria Urbana, Mark Jacobs and junior chef Einar Marin.
Team manager Chef Pronk said the Belizeans performed even better than they had hoped, a result that Chef Kuylen said had much to do with their unique Maya-influenced creations. Cacao, an ingredient local cooks are increasingly using in new and creative ways, was featured in standout dishes and drinks such as a chocolate stout.
“If they didn’t hear about Belize, they know about Belize now,” Chef Kuylen remarked, and we have no doubt that chocolate stout would go a long way in creating a buzz.
It wasn’t so long ago when “Belizean cuisine” was pretty basic fare, consisting primarily of that tried and true standby of rice and beans, with variations on stew chicken, beef, pork and – if you were lucky, Gibnut, deemed the “Royal Rat” after Queen Elizabeth II dined on this yummy jungle rodent during her 1985 visit.
Other traditional staples include fryjacks, panades, salbutes, garnaches, and a wide variety of corn and flour tortillas, with the flour versions particularly essential in Creole and Garifuna cooking.
For years this filling and decidedly delectable “roots” cooking was enough to satisfy the national appetite, but as post-independence Belize grew more globally focussed with more visitors and influences arriving, local chefs reached back into the country’s Maya past and discovered a world of intricate flavours and techniques, such as using allspice and other rainforest ingredients in slow cook dishes like pork Pibil.
Our chefs are continuing to combine history with local ingredients, experimenting with Spanish influenced spices, English settler stews, African flavorings and use of plantains and ground food, and ingredients Chinese restaurants are growing or importing, to push the boundaries of Belizean Nouvelle cuisine.
Chaa Creek, for example, has invited international chefs and restaurateurs to mentor local Belizean chefs and cooks at the onsite Mariposa restaurant and the award winning Guava Limb Café in San Ignacio Town, voted as “Belize’s Restaurant of the Year 2015” by the Belize Tourism Board.
In the coming weeks and months we’ll continue to cover the exciting evolution of Belizean cuisine – there’s even talk of an all-inclusive Belize vacation package dedicated to the exploration and teaching of Belizean cooking from the ancient Maya to Nouvelle Belizean – but for now we’re content with congratulating our local chefs on their impressive wins, and wishing Belizean cooks and chefs all the best in future competitions.
We have a feeling we’ll be hearing more about classic and nouvelle Belizean cuisine in the future. For now, we hope this little appetiser is enough to whet our readers’ appetites.