The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) celebrated the senses with a pinch of spice and a dash of style at the 6th Annual Taste of Belize held at the Radisson Fort George Hotel. At the end of the night, the event drew a massive crowd who came out to sample “Belize’s Finest” and witness top chefs, decorators and bartenders put their skills to test in this culinary event. Calbert Santiago was named the 2007 professional Chef of the Year with his succulent and undeniable turkey and beef dish.
This year’s Taste of Belize attracted the participation of 15 professional chefs, seven amateur chefs, six cake decorators, nine bartenders, and six grill masters which was a new category this year. The “Taste” commenced early on Saturday morning and the judges had the unwieldy task of short listing from 15 to seven chefs. The event also featured a cake decorating competition, in addition to the day-long cook-off and elimination rounds and a grill master’s barbecue competition.
After the crowd indulged in an enormous buffet set out by the folks at Radisson, the winners were announced. 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. Enrique Luna of Victoria House in San Pedro, won the prestigious title of “Bartender of the Year” and his winning drink “Coconut Daiquiri” was dubbed as “Belize’s best new signature drink for 2007.” Additionally, Luna was awarded a trophy, a gift package from Karl H Menzies and a $500 cash prize. The second place winner, Marcia Jones of Old Belize was awarded a trophy, a gift package from Karl H Menzies and $300 cash prize for her “Tsunami Twist”. The third place winner, Deshaun Sosa of Radisson Fort George Hotel was awarded a trophy, a gift package form Karl H Menzies and cash prize of $150.00 for his “ProVoKing Cocktail.”
The Amateur Competition consisted of public cooks, kitchen apprentices, and caterers. Elma Dominguez of Radisson Fort George Hotel, was awarded the title of “Amateur Chef of the Year” and received a trophy and a $500 cash prize for her Butterfly Blackened Pork Chops served on mashed sweet potatoes and assorted sautéed vegetables. The second place winner was Trinell Smith of Robert’s Grove who received a trophy and a $300 cash prize. The third place winner, Gesenia Cook of Radisson Fort George Hotel, received a trophy and a $150 cash prize.
In the professional chef category, enthusiasts swarmed the cook room as the chefs prepared an original recipe right before their eyes. Bright red and green peppers, yellow squash and zucchini being sliced, chopped and hollowed out, chickens being split, filleted or roulade, sizzling sausage, spices/condiments and aromatic garlic permeated thru the air with its powerful aromas. It certainly opened up the appetite for when it was time for judging. It was truly a feast for the eyes as well as the palate. Chefs had 60 minutes to prepare an original entree, which was judged for presentation, taste, originality and ‘mise en place’ (preparation). Calbert Santiago of Jaguar Reef Lodge in Hopkins, captured the title of “Professional Chef of the Year 2007” with his savory combination of marinated turkey and beef with Maya red pepper and balsamic sauce. As a part of his winning package, Santiago received a trophy and cash prize of $1,200. The second place winner, Marcus Perigo of French Connection in Placencia, received a trophy and $800 cash prize. Third place was a tie between Jeff Spiegel of Rojo Lounge on Ambergris Caye and Patrick Houghton of Cayo Espanto. They each received a trophy and $500 cash prize.
The Cake decorating category was also a hit among the gathered; Marilyn Bouloy of Sunspree, captured the title of “Cake Decorator of the Year 2007” for her “You Better Belize It Chocolate Cake.” As a part of her winning package, Marilyn received a trophy and a $500 cash prize. The second place winner, Mary Rhaburn of Channel 5 was awarded a trophy and a $300 cash prize for her “Waterfalls – Pina Colada Cake.” The third place winner, Shawna Duncan of the Inn at Robert’s Grove was awarded a trophy and cash prize of $150 for her “Mango Cashew Layered Cake.”
The Grill Master category featured Belize’s best barbeque connoisseurs and challenged them to provide the best grilled chicken or pork for that day. First place winner was Mr. David Longsworth of HL’s. As a part of his winning package, Mr. Longsworth received $500, a trophy and a gift package from Kraft. Second place winner was Ms. Margaret Tucker who received $300, a trophy and a gift package from Kraft. Third place was awarded to Michael Theus who was awarded $150, a trophy and a gift package from Kraft.
The judges for this year’s culinary competition included Mrs. Katherine Alford, Test Kitchen Director for the Food Network; Executive Chef Jan Kuska - Goddard Catering Group, El Salvador; Mr. Jose Roberto Barrientos, Chef and Owner of Voila Restaurant in San Salvador, El Salvador; Chef Rob Pronk, Ms.Amy Knox of Wild Mangoes and Mr. Bernard Blades.
The Gala night included cultural entertainment from Kenny Gladden and the New Creation Band, the Pantempters Steel Band, the General Super G and Danger Zone. An appearance was also made by Ms. World Belize, Felicita Arzu. The master of ceremonies was no stranger to the show, William Neal and side kick/co-host Gwen Gonzalez.
“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 and should have reflected Belizean or regional cuisine. The Director of Tourism, Tracy Panton commented on the show, “This event encourages hoteliers, restaurateurs and the local population to showcase and develop their interest in the culinary arts. Furthermore, it promotes opportunities for stakeholders in the tourism industry to promote themselves and the Belize tourism experience by engaging the senses.”
The Taste of Belize is a cultural extravaganza of Belizean and Caribbean food, music, and dance: over one thousand people attended the show. Kudos to all winners and organizers for a making it a sensational event!