Jason De O'Campo is Chef of the Year 2008

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 18, No. 24            June 12, 2008

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Jason displays his delectable Pan Grilled Tilapia Fillet.

Top bartender Enrique Alamilla of DuPlooy's.

MADISCO was one of the main sponsors for the year, and had their booth on display for the public.

The Taste of Belize is a cultural extravaganza of Belizean and Caribbean food, music, and dance: this explains why over a thousand people had to be witnesses to the 7th Annual Belize Tourism Board's (BTB) "Taste of Belize" competition held at the Radisson Fort George Hotel in Belize City. This signature competition is geared at developing the culinary arts in Belize, whereby contestants must create a unique dish using his/her choice of ingredients. Winners are chosen in three categories - professional and amateur culinary, and bartending competitions.

    The event, held on June 7th, 2008, was geared to accommodate 16 great chefs, from the amateur and professional category. This year, however, the Taste of Belize event saw only 13 professional chefs entering which was three less than 2007. Their delectable dishes made many walk into the designated cooking areas armed with their forks. The crowd was mesmerized and eagerly waited to dig into the most tasteful dishes. They only needed the go ahead to indulge the chefs' many delightful creations.

    At the end of the night, there were three set of "toppa, toppa's" who walked away with gift sets and gift packages, as well as, trophies and a case of red bull. The professional category of the chef competition, which resembled more a mouthwatering competition, had attracted many. While all eyes were on the appetizing and well-cooked dish, capturing first place was Jason De O'Campo, a veteran chef with years of experience who represented Global Spice located at the International Airport in Ladyville. O'Campo stole the "tummy" of the judges and audience with his Pan Grilled Tilapia Fillet. Second place was captured by Luis Cawich of Rico's Bar in San Pedro, while third place went to Aaron Mai of Turtle Inn in Placencia.

    Apart from 13 professional chefs, there were five amateur chefs, and in that category, Patricia Lopez of Cayo Espanto captured first place, Henry Jex, of Happy Chicks took second and third went to Alma Dominique also of the Radisson.

    Six bartenders competed in the third event and Marsha Jones, the only female who excelled to the final round at the end of the double round elimination, no doubt gave the men a race to the top. Even with all her great efforts, Jones came up short when Enrique Alamilla of Duplooy's was declared victorious with the Magnito, one of his three famous signature drinks. Made from local vodka with lime juice and fresh local mint, the Magnito captured the judges' attention. Second place was captured by Marsha Jones, 34, of Old Belize, and third place went to Calistro Guerra.

    During the competitions, the crowd was welcomed to dine and taste what culinary treats Belize had to offer. These delicacies were prepared by the Radisson staff and served near the pool area. The "Taste of Belize" food included that of the Creole, Maya, Garifuna and Mestizo dishes in finger licking style and design among many others.

    In an interview with The San Pedro Sun, O'Campo said he was a bit disappointed with his performance in terms of the time period because he felt that the time allotted was too little. However, he believes that to complete a great dish, one that would sweep his tasters away, he must take his time preparing it. He further said that in a regular preparation timeframe, his dish would have taken two hours 20 minutes, but the secret he had in his recipe will never be revealed because whatever he did in such a short period, made him victorious that night.

    At the end of the night, he walked away with $1,000 cash, a trophy, a gift package, a gift set and a case of red bull. All the top three winners walked away with cash, gift packages, gift sets and a case of red bull.

    Despite the absence of the Cake Decorating and Grill Master Category, the Taste of Belize was a success. Jim Scott, Chief Executive Officer of Radisson commented that weather factors as much as other obstacles during such events. However, he felt that the event was a great success. Scott concluded that next year, they are gearing up to make it even bigger and better.

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