Local chefs compete in Culinary Gala

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 11, No. 19            May 17, 2001

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Culture and competition, dancing, dining and drinks were the highlights of the first annual Culture and Culinary Gala culminating Belize Tourism Board's (BTB) Tourism Week. Held Saturday at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City, the event drew a large crowd of Belizeans who came out to sample "Belize's Finest"!

    Activities started early with chefs from around the country competing in the culinary competition. Entering the contest from "Temptation Island" was Glen Schwendinger of Rendezvous Estates Restaurant & Winery who took some "ribbing" for sampling his own homemade Belizean product (Rendezvous' Pinot Chardonnay) while creating his "masterpiece". Duane Lizama of Royal Palm stirred up his own "La Isla Bonita" Special as well, to tantalize the judges. They joined the following ten chefs from around the country: Vilma Perez of Maruba Resort & Jungle Spa, Miles Patrick of Rum Point Inn, Sean Beaton of Aguada Hotel, Mercedes Ruiz of Radisson Fort George, Sandra Gabb of Gabby's Gallery Restaurant, Yolanda Bedran of The Lodge at Chaa Creek, Stella Nunez of Programme for Belize, Ainsley Castro of Radisson Fort George, Bernard Blades of Princess Hotel & Casino and Saul Aguilar of Blancaneux Lodge.

    Each chef was given a "Mystery Basket" filled with identical ingredients native to Belize. The initial eliminating round required the chef to concoct a dish of conch and pork to be served on the same plate. A proud Glen Schwendinger joined the six semi-final participants who were chosen for the evening competition, using beef and fish as their components. He commented, "It offered a wonderful opportunity to promote Belizean chefs. There was a great sense of camaraderie and cooperation between the participants. I am certain there will be many positive consequences as a result of this competition. This was the first year and I look forward to the next."

    Aside from the most important, obvious factor, "taste," participants were judged on floor skills, techniques, hygiene standards and time. Judging the competition were five renowned chefs consisting of two traveling, international chefs, HervÈ Laurent and Marcus Paparozzi, and three residing Belizean chefs: Todd Unkefer of Cayo Espanto, Rob Pronk of the Radisson and Denfield Christian of Princess Hotel.

    The San Pedro Sun had an opportunity to speak with one of the judges, Chef Marcus Paparozzi, who spends long periods of time in Belize as Executive Chef aboard the Cotton Ranch yacht. He explained that this competition actually spawned the idea of a Belize Culinary Federation, which is being supported by the BTB. Comprised of himself and the other competition judges, their aim is to raise the culinary standards in this country. Chef Paparozzi stated he is "excited to be on the ground level of this organization that Belize is more than ready for." His excitement about the possibilities of furthering the art of cuisine in Belize is very apparent, as he recently resigned from his job in order to permanently reside in the country. He added, "The competition was a tremendous success. The people I worked with and the contestants were second to none. I am very encouraged about the culinary future of Belize."

    In the end, it was Chef Saul Aguilar of Blancaneux Lodge who was named "Chef of the Year 2001". For his efforts, Chef Aguilar received a round trip ticket anywhere Continental Airlines flies, and a two-night stay at Lamanai Outpost Lodge including meals and tours. Princess Hotel's Chef Bernard Blades was presented with second place honors and Chef Mercedes Ruiz of the host hotel was awarded third place.

    In a release from the BTB, Director Tracy Taegar commented on the many contestants who entered this first year competition adding, "We are very proud of the many exotic dishes produced by this year's participants. It was obvious that the panel of judges had a difficult time choosing a winner."

   Other events for the gala included a Belizean Bartenders' competition for a "Signature Drink 2001" using local and international liquors. Winning this award with his personal version of the popular cocktail "Blue Hole" was Mr. Jason O'Campo of the Belize Biltmore Hotel.

     Recipes and drinks submitted for competition will soon be tested and published in a cookbook to be printed later this year.

    The cultural element of the evening featured the theme of Belize's past, present and future. This part of the gala was enjoyed by a large crowd who were entertained by Creole story-telling, ethnic (Chinese and Indian) dance performances as well as dance presentations from The National Dance Company, and the Yo Creek and Ugandani Dance Groups. Music was provided by Mayan harp musicians, Mr. Peter's Boom and Chime Band, and the Punta Rebels.

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