Blazing sunshine blessed patrons who made the trek to the annual Tobago Blue Food Festival at Bloody Bay last Sunday. The brilliant weather was a welcome relief for everyone, as in recent years the event has been disrupted by rain.
There was a huge crowd, described as one of the largest ever by the organisers. From as early as midday the booths were filled with visitors lining up to get their share of the tasty meals on offer.
There were more cooks and a wide variety of dishes, including traditional stewed chicken, pork with dumplings and ground provision, as well as the now popular dasheen punch—which many of the men seemed interested in trying. Meat eaters had a choice of wild meat, or bush meat as it is called in Tobago—iguana, agouti, tattoo, crab and wilkes.
Chefs also offered appetisers like dasheen nuggets and dasheen cookie. For those with a sweet tooth there was khurma, pone, sweetbread, pot tarts, crumb pies, currant rolls, as well as sponge and fruit cakes.
The annual culinary festival is hosted by the Tobago House of Assembly’s (THA) Tourism and Transportation Division. Co-ordinator John Arnold spoke about how the Blue Food Festival has grown over the years.
“It started in L’Anse Fourmi as a small festival and we have seen it grow into a significant and signature event here in Tobago,” he said. “This year we had 22 cooks as opposed to ten in 2011. The villages chose the cooks and they were trained for two to three weeks before the festival in food preparation, food safety and portion sizing.”
Arnold said the organisers now want to attract visitors from across the region. “We are looking to market it outside. We need to bring the Caribbean. Blue food festivals exist in other countries like Bangladesh and the Maldives. So we need to look at how to get what people (from other countries) do with dasheen and have them look at what we do.”
Each cook presented a dish for competition but it was first-time participant Patricia Shepherd who walked away with the lion’s share of the prizes. Shepherd’s pan-seared albacore with dasheen bush au gratin and dasheen reduction, won the Best Baked Dish and the overall award. Her pickled dasheen kebab topped the Chutney/ Condiment/Pickel division and she also got the nod in the Dessert category with her dasheen and coconut mousse dream cooler.
Shepherd said she was shocked at winning as she paid little attention to the competitive aspect of the festival. She said she was especially pleased with her mousse and pickle dishes. Shepherd, who works as a cook with the Magdalena Grand Hotel, is the daughter of cooks. Her mother Dorothy was her assistant at the Blue Food Festival.
Charlene John copped the prize for Most Creative Dasheen Dish and Carlton Campbell for the Best Beverage. Judges were chef Debra Metivier, Sandra Nurse, Bernadette Als-Pierre and Carlton Cadiz.
Other culinary highlights included Linda Daniel of Laurie Lee Food Service’s three-course dasheen meal. The appetiser was dasheen nuggets with garlic sauce, followed by dasheen chutney, dasheen bread with a stuffing and pizza.
The visitors had lots of praise for the cooks and their unique creations. Alicia Small told the T&T Guardian she could not resist the dasheen cheese cake.
“It tasted much like original cheese cake though not as light. I didn’t know the crust at the bottom was from dasheen until someone told me. There’s no need to dress it up with blueberry or cherry. It’s good as it is.”
Food is not the only attraction at the Blue Food Festival. There are usually performances by well-known entertainers. This year’s lineup included Shadow, Black Stalin, Johnny King, Chucky, Blaxx, Fire Fusion, Jerrod Balfour and Prophet Benjamin. Artistes from the nearby villages of L’Anse Fourmi, Castara, Parlatuvier also performed, among them Super Power (Aaron King), Keshorn Jack and Samuel Williams.