A Tasty Win at “Taste of Belize” 2018: Junior Chef of the Year
As Nouvelle Belizean Cuisine comes into its own, our local chefs are shining brighter
Congratulations to Rojel Ian Lisbey, who took home a first place win as the “Junior Chef of the Year” at the “Taste of Belize 2018” culinary competition held July 21st at the Belize City Ramada Princess.
Organised by the Belize Tourism Board, the annual event showcases Belizean cuisine and generates friendly competition between Belize’s best chefs and cooks, with competition winners often going on to compete in the regional “Taste of Caribbean” event. (This year’s “Taste of the Caribbean 2018” held in Miami last June, saw a team of Belizean chefs winning a silver medal in overall competition, and three bronze medals in several categories.)
Rojel got his start at Chaa Creek’s onsite Mariposa Restaurant, where he arrived in July 2014 and worked for six months after showing up for a dishwasher’s position with no professional kitchen or cooking experience, but a lot of enthusiasm.
“He came to us with no training, but Rojel’s passion and enthusiasm for the kitchen enabled him to grasp the skills and knowledge to move up the ranks as prep cook and more recently as line cook,” Chaa Creek’s general manager Loncey Emmanuel said.
After getting his chops and refining his skills at the Mariposa, Rojel transferred to the Guava Limb Café, where for two years he’s been perfecting his craft while delighting local and international diners.
But it takes more than just skill to shine before a panel of professional judges, and Rojel’s creativity came to the fore with the inspired use of Belizean ingredients presented in a new ways.
Chicken and craboo*are as Belizean as it gets, as are salbutes*. But combining them as “Gourmet Belizean Salbutes with Craboo Slaw”?
Now, that is creative.
“At first I was wondering how I could use craboo with chicken, and then I realised that a craboo slaw was in order, and it made all the difference,” Rojel explained.
The judges, who tasked the competitors to quickly come up with dishes featuring Belizean ingredients and names, were obviously impressed with this teen chef from San Ignacio, with one officiating chef saying she never thought of combining those ingredients, but calling it “a great choice.”
“Rojel’s plate was a creative spin on a classic Belizean staple,” the judging chefs announced.
Some of the other uniquely Belizean dishes presented at “Taste of Belize 2018” were a Lobster Boil Up*, Belizean Panades* with a Tangy Mango Sauce, a Chimichurri Skirt Steak, and other delicacies.
Our readers, and pretty much anyone familiar with Chaa Creek, understand how passionate owners Mick and Lucy Fleming are about two things – education and food.
The emphasis on education is reflected in in Chaa Creek’s Eco-Kids Educational Summer Camp, its academic scholarships, many educational tours, all-inclusive Belize vacation packages, cultural excursions, and onsite attractions such as the Belize Natural History Centre, Butterfly Farm, Maya Medicinal Plant trail and organic farm.
And as pioneers in Farm-to-Table dining in Belize, with the traditional Maya Organic Farm supplying the Mariposa Restaurant and Guava Limb Café with fresh produce, and by sponsoring international chefs to mentor local cooks, encouraging the development of Nouvelle Belizean Cuisine and in other areas, Chaa Creek has been attracting and satisfying discerning foodies for years.
Combine education and skills development with a passion for great food, and the result is… well, ask Rojel.
“I’m, proud that I could bring a win home for my family, my employer, my friends and my town.”
With Belizean Fusion and Belizean Nouvelle Cuisine continually evolving and attracting more global attention each year, it’s a safe bet we’ll be hearing more about culinary tourism in Belize. And with more and more travellers arriving to take part in this culinary adventure, rising young chefs like Rojel will stay busy and continue to spread their wings.
Out interest – and our appetites – are definitely piqued.
Appreciating that not all of our readers are lucky enough to be familiar with Belizean cuisine, we thought we’d describe a few items mentioned above:
- Craboo* – sometimes called Nance, it’s the small, yellowish, pungent fruit of the Craboo, or Byrsonima crassifolia tree, and is beloved throughout Belize, especially when it is fresh, but all year long preserved in water and sugar, or enjoyed as Craboo Wine or Nance Liquor. It grows from Mexico to Brazil, and is widespread throughout the Caribbean, where it is also known as Barbados Cherry.
- Salbutes* – A yummy Belizean snack, finger food or accompaniment to a meal. Sort of a puffy corn tortilla fried and topped with a variety of goodies from beans, cheese, chicken, pork, cabbage and chillies.
- Boil Up* – Back in the day, a boil up was essential to any party, gathering or event, as well as being a traditional meal. As the name implies, it combines various ingredients boiled together – sort of a New England Boiled Dinner, Belizean style. Cassava, potatoes, yam, onions and whatever ground foods or vegetables you have at hand, along with fish, meats and, especially, pig tail. For the uninitiated, pig tails are just that, tails of pigs that have been packed in five gallon plastic buckets, and fall into the “Don’t knock it til you try it category”. Oh yes, and boil cakes, a sort of dumpling that goes in the boiling water towards the end.
- Panades* – Similar to the empanadas of other regions, they’re a sort of stuffed soft and fried corn tortilla, made by rolling masa dough into a round, topping half of it with a filling – fish, including tinned mackerel mashed with onion and spices being a favourite – folded and fried. Topped with chopped cabbage and onion in vinegar, it is delish!