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Nouvelle Belizean Cuisine may not be appearing on menus at Five Star restaurants yet, but, according to Belize’s The Lodge at Chaa Creek, that’s about to change; especially with local chefs winning awards in culinary competitions like the “Taste of the Caribbean” recently held in Miami.

Belize’s impressive showing at a recent “Culinary Olympics of the Caribbean” highlights the skills of a new generation of Belizean cooks who are combining ancient Maya culture with global influences to forge a Nouvelle Belizean Cuisine, according to The Lodge at Chaa Creek.

Chaa Creek managing director Bryony Fleming Bradley was congratulating Belizean chefs returning from the “Taste of the Caribbean” culinary competition held in Florida June 22 to 26 2018. She said the Belizean delegation, who returned to the competition after a fifteen year hiatus, out performed expectations to bring home a silver and three bronze medals amid strong competition from more experienced Caribbean national teams.

“Because Belize had been absent from the competition for so long, it entered as somewhat of a dark horse, so having such a strong showing took people by surprise,” she said.

However, Ms Bradley, who formally was Chaa Creek’s food and beverage manager, added that she expected Belize would do well in the competition.

“There’s been a tremendous emphasis on Belizean cuisine in recent years, and the enthusiasm, creativity and skills development of local chefs and cooks has been exciting to see.

“As Belize’s tourism industry grew so dramatically, local cooks rose to the challenge of increased expectations from a more sophisticated global clientele, and the results have been impressive, to say the least.

“The last time Belize competed at the ‘Taste of the Caribbean’ was in 2003, and given the evolution of Belizean cuisine since then, I expected our Belizean chefs would do well,” she said.

Since 1993 the annual “Taste of the Caribbean” competition, organised by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, sees top chefs from across the Caribbean region vying for awards in various categories over a three-day period.

This year’s event was held June 22 to 26 at the Hyatt Regency Miami and saw teams from Anguilla, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Bonaire, Surinam, St Lucia, Barbados, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Jamaica, and other island nations competing in what organisers bill as “The region’s premier culinary competition, food and beverage educational exchange and Caribbean cultural showcase.”

The Belize delegation, consisting of team manger Chef Robertus Pronk, Eva Longsworth, Sean Kuylen, Maria Urbana, Mark Jacobs and junior chef Einar Marin, took home the silver medal in overall competition, and three bronze in the “Chef of the Year”, “Pastry Chef” and “Bartender” categories.

Chef Pronk agreed that the Belizean team performed better than expected, with Chef Kuylen crediting the unique Maya influence of the Belizean offerings for attracting attention, with cacao, a Maya staple, featured in recipes such as short ribs braised in chocolate stout with Maya corn tamale, cacao buttered carrots and green herb oil.

Ms Bradley said that while traditional fare such as rice and beans with stew chicken or beef was still popular in Belize, tastes and recipes were expanding to take advantage of a year round growing climate, abundant Caribbean seafood, and the creativity of cooks willing to experiment.

Belize is also drawing chefs from around the world, and they’re having an influence in local kitchens, Ms Bradley said.

“We’ve been fortunate to have some renowned chefs and restauranteurs visit to mentor our cooks at our onsite Mariposa restaurant and our Guava Limb Café in San Ignacio Town, with great, mutually beneficial results. Visiting chefs expand their knowledge of Maya cooking and enjoy working in the true farm-to-table environment we have here, and at the same time pass on skills and experiences that aren’t readily available in Belize.

“It’s a win-win situation that’s had a strong, positive influence on the development of Nouvelle Belizean Cuisine.”

Nouvelle Belizean, Ms Bradley explained, is a style that reflects Belize’s own cultural evolution, with chefs reaching back to the ancient Maya use of corn, chillies, turkey, pork, cacao, citrus and other condiments, and adding Spanish influences, English settler stews, African flavourings and use of plantains, cassavas and yams, and ingredients local Asian restaurants are growing or importing, to create a new gastronomic style.

“That’s the beauty and excitement of Nouvelle Belizean cooking,” Ms Bradley said, “It follows the evolution of multicultural Belize, and the harmonious blend of flavours mirrors the inclusiveness of our society.”

With growing attention on Belizean cuisine, Ms Bradley said discussions are underway at Chaa Creek to offer an all-inclusive Belize vacation package dedicated to cooking and culture.

“It would be a great way to see the country, from the Caribbean to inland jungles, and combine culinary and cultural tourism in a way that does Belize justice.

“I can’t think of a more delicious way to see Belize, and visitors would go home with more than just memories and photographs. I’d like to see our cuisine become Belize’s next ambassador to the world,” Ms Bradley said.

The Lodge at Chaa Creek is a multi-award winning eco resort set within a 400-acre private nature reserve along the banks of the Macal River in Belize. It was recognised by National Geographic with first place honours at the 2017 World Legacy Awards held in Berlin. 

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