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San Pedro Tops Taste of Belize

San Pedro came on top once again at the annual Taste of Belize culinary and bartending competitions with prominent resorts and restaurants from La Isla Bonita taking half of the trophies and cash prizes awarded. The biggest honor of Professional Chef of the Year 2006 was won by Mr. Patrick Haughton of Cayo Espanto, San Pedro.

The Belize Tourism Industry held its 5th Annual Taste of Belize Competition on Saturday, June 3rd, at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza Hotel which featured 15 professional chefs, 7 amateur chefs, 6 cake decorators and 8 bartenders.

“Taste of Belize” is Belize’s ‘signature culinary competition’ geared at developing the Culinary Arts in Belize. Competitors in all categories were expected to create a unique dish using his/her choice of ingredients. This dish could have been an appetizer, main dish or dessert but must reflect Belizean or regional cuisine. The “Taste” commenced early on Saturday morning and the judges had the unwieldy task of short listing from 15 to 7 chefs. For the first time this year, a cake decorating competition was introduced, in addition to the day-long cook-off and elimination rounds.

Mr. Patrick Haughton of Cayo Espanto in San Pedro captured the title of “Professional Chef of the Year 2006” with his savory Pan Plantain De Rosa with Mango, Chile Mojo and Gavifretts. As a part of his winning package, he received a trophy and cash prize of $1200.00. Haughton rose to the top this year after coming in third at last year’s event.

Chef Haughton told Ambergris Today Newspaper that the source of inspiration for his winning dish came from the Radisson’s taxi driver that took him to the venue of competition. He said that the taxi driver gave him tips that added the Belizean touch to his creation.

The second place winner, Chris Aycock of Blue Water Grill in San Pedro, received a trophy and $800.00 cash prize. The third place winner, Jason De O’Campo of Global Spice Restaurant of the Philip Goldson International Airport, received a trophy and $500 cash prize. Jason place second last year.

The Amateur Competition consisted of public cooks, kitchen apprentices, and caterers. Ms. Mitylene Bailey, Teacher of Pallotti High School, was awarded the title of “Amateur Chef of the Year” and received a trophy and a $500.00 cash prize for her Queso Doble Deluxe Burrito with cool Guacamole, Sals Picante and Cheesy Sour Cream. The second place winner was Henry Jex, Banker at the Belize Bank, who received a trophy and a $300.00 cash prize. The third place winner, Stephanie Crawford of the Radisson Fort George Hotel, received a trophy and a $150.00 cash prize.

Participants competing in the bartending category were required to create a signature drink, giving the audience and judges, a sample of what was expected to meet with their stamp of approval. Mariano Coc, bartender at The Placencia Hotel & Residences, won the prestigious title of “Bartender of the Year” and his winning drink “Placencia Treat” was dubbed as “Belize’s best new signature drink for 2006.” Additionally, Mr. Coc was awarded a trophy and a $500 cash prize.

Defending champ and second place winner, Enrique Luna of Victoria House in San Pedro was slightly edged out by Coc. Luna was awarded a trophy and $300 cash prize. The third place winner, Trevor Del Valle of Wild Mangoes in San Pedro was awarded a trophy and a cash prize of $150.00.

The bartending competition was one of the most exciting competitions at the event as it was a fast-paced event with the crowd cheering as the bartenders showed off their expertise, agility and charisma.

Amy Knox of Wild Mango’s in San Pedro captured the title of “Cake Decorator of the Year 2006” for her Coconut Cake with Banana Cream Filling. As a part of her winning package, she received a trophy and a $500.00 cash prize. Amy is also a two-time winner of the Profession Chef of the year 2004-2005. The second place winner, Carmen Leticia Vasquez of Journey’s End Resort in Placencia was awarded a trophy and a $300.00 cash prize. The third place winner, Priscilla Castillo, Independent, was awarded a trophy and a cash prize of $150.00.

The Gala night included cultural entertainment from Mango Jamz Jazz Band, Pantempters Steel Band, Youth Connection Band alongside Lela Vernon. Additions to this year’s event also included a Tasting and Sampling Gallery comprised of nine business places from the local Food and Beverage Industry, namely Pirates Taiwanese Restaurant, Brodies – Wine Tasting, Sunspree Resort, Princess Hotel & Casino, Karl H. Menzies – Liquors, Gallon Jug, Bel Mer Wines, Rendezvous Winery, and Traveller’s Liquors. The “Taste of Belize” attracted over 1200 attendees.

The judges for this year’s culinary competition included Executive Chef Jereon Hanlo - Charisma Hotels, Cancun; Executive Chef Jan Kuska - Goddard Catering Group, El Salvador; Executive Chef Rainer Zingrebe – Ritz Carlton, Cancun; Chef Rob Pronk – Chaa Creek Cottages; Beverly Brown – ITEVET, Belize; Bernard Blades, Belize.

“This event highlights local expertise and creativity in the culinary arts,” comments Tourism Director, Tracy Panton. “The competition encourages food connoisseurs to take an active role in developing and sharpening their skills, as well as and the culinary sector in Belize.

Other participants in the professional and amateur chef categories included: (From San Pedro) Rosalva Reyes & Colleen Swendinger – Rendezvous Restaurant, Carla Jones – Wild Mango’s, Jeff Spiegel – Azul Resort & Adam Thompson – Pedro’s Pizzeria & Bistro. Others chefs include Calbert Santiago (Jaguar Reef), Aron Mai (Blancaneaux), Ainsley Castro (Radisson), Peter Ma (Pirates Restaurant), Sheridan Sierra (Turtle Inn), Saul Aguilar (San Ignacio Hotel), Joseph Pech, Beverly Rubio, Deona Pilgrim and Trinnell Smith. The remaining competitors in the Bartending Category were Roett King Lewis, Calixtro Tzul, Lelo Batun, Roquel Riviera and Luis Velasquez. In the Cake Decorating Category, remaining participants were Elvera Strawn, Emelda Vernon and Andrew Middleton.

Sponsors for the event were Santiago Castillo Ltd., Appleton Jamaica Rum, James Brodies & Co. Ltd., First Caribbean Bank, Belize Bank, Fresh Catch, Belize Aquaculture Limited, Running W Meats, University of Belize, Polystructure Ltd., Tropic Air, YWCA, Northern Fishermen Cooperative, Bowen & Bowen Ltd., HRI Express and Institute for Technical, Educational & Vocational Training (ITVET), Belize Tourism Industry Association and Belize Hotels Association.