Arguably Barbados’ most celebrated Chef, the name Peter Edey is now synonymous with Caribbean cuisine; generating a resurgence of pride in indigenous Barbadian and Caribbean foods and the cooking methods that make them unique.
You are one of the most emblematic Chefs in the Caribbean and in Barbados, your country. Could you tell us how you become a Chef?
I believe that I was destined to be a Chef. I never sat down and chose this profession, it just happened naturally. Truthfully, I believe in pre-destination…everything that happened in my younger days was related to cooking. I spent a lot of time cooking with my Grandmother and I attend a school which was on the same compound as the Hotel School in Barbados at that time. After school each day I would sneak into the Hotel School to watch the lecturers and students at work and by the time I left school I knew that I wanted to be Chef, nothing else….there was never a plan B, Chef or death it was for me.
How do you think Chefs can support the local farmers and processors in using local food as the food import in the region is very high?
The first thing that Chefs need to do is to change the menus in the hotels, change the influence. At one time we were influenced by expat Chefs who were brought to the island to head up kitchens and teach the locals to cook.
Unfortunately, they left us with their methods of seasoning and cooking, which did not reflect our local and Caribbean traditions. As such, many of our older Chefs continued cooking in the way they were taught by the expats and completely forgot about their roots.
Today, now that our Chefs are armed with the techniques and methods of cooking they need to apply them to their ingredients and produce and change the menus to reflect the same.
They need to recognise that local and Caribbean produce is different in flavour and appearance. For example, take carrots that come from overseas, they are very uniformed, each one looks almost the same, but carrots from the Caribbean are all different shapes and sizes. Chefs must therefore be able to use our local/ Caribbean carrots and put them on a plate, making them look fantastic, even though the look will be a little more rustic in appearance; rustic must be the new elegant for the people in the Caribbean and this is what our Chefs must be able to do, utilizing all of our local/ Caribbean products.
You promote Bajan cuisine amongst a wider public through TV programmes, competitions and other public events. Have you seen a positive change amongst the Caribbean people about the appreciation of their food and cuisine?
Absolutely. When you look across the Caribbean you are seeing more and more events celebrating and promoting what countries are growing, like the pineapple festival in Antigua. You are also seeing a lot more street festivals, where food is very prominent - take the Crop-Over Festival in Barbados, food is big part of that event and what you are seeing is street food being taken to a new level. For example, you now have roasted breadfruit at big events…roasted breadfruit was a street food when I was a child, so yes, things have changed considerably since I started the television programmes, not only in Barbados, but throughout the Caribbean, there is a lot more respect and appreciation for local, rustic food.
You have been boosting the culinary industry through the Junior Duelling Challenge programme. Could you tell us more about it?
The Junior Duelling Challenge started 11 years ago with the Barbados Junior Duelling Challenge and that was developed because of my love for Barbadian and Caribbean food.
I really began with the Duelling Chefs competition which was for senior Chefs, but what they were producing was depressing because there was nothing Barbadian or Caribbean on their plates. Additionally, given the negative comments I received from the public about cooking Barbadian food when I began my first television show, Cooking the Bajan Way, I realised that we were facing a culinary crisis.
I immediately stopped the senior chefs competition and went to the secondary schools in Barbados, because if you are going to make a positive change, that is where you have to start, with the young people and that is how the Junior Duelling Challenge came into being. All the young people came in with was experience in cooking with their parents, grannies and aunties and what I did was teach them the cooking techniques and gave them local produce with which to create their dishes.
The whole Junior Duelling Challenge programme is about the development of young people and making them aware of local cuisine and appreciating it as well. When they come to the competition there is 80 percent local/ Caribbean produce and because we do not live in a world by ourselves, there is 20 percent of international produce. The programme also helps them to understand that they can produce a proper meal in the same time that they take to order and wait on a meal from a fast food outlet.
The Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge competition offers to same experience to young people from throughout the Caribbean as the JDC and has now become a part of the Caribbean Junior Culinary Conference, which features workshops, demonstrations and presentations by local, regional and international experts in the culinary arts field.
Additionally, the Caribbean event has grown into a “must attend” event, so much so that individual Caribbean countries have local competitions to select persons to represent them at the Caribbean Junior Culinary Conference. One of the main features of the Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge Competition is that each team must produce a National Dish…teams can deconstruct their National Dish, but must retain its character, especially as it relates to texture and flavour. As a result, you are also seeing a big change in how Caribbean people view their food, thanks to this competition.
What would be your next challenge?
My next challenge is to see the Caribbean Junior Culinary Conference evolve. The Culinary Arena where the event is held will not be big enough, so I would like to see a home for this event, where you have a true arena.
I would like to see a home where we have a library, a bank of computers, a Caribbean test kitchen, a place that anyone can come when they need information or resources, a place where an idea can be tested and analysed and labels created, not only for Barbadians, but the Caribbean persons as well. These things can be all put together and marketed as one Caribbean product.
We also have a culinary school and this would also become a big part of the arena, where you can come and receive your certification.
We need the support of the people in agriculture who can provide us with the necessary produce to try out various ideas and once these ideas work, they will become the beneficiaries because we would need to source the produce from the farmers.
That is my vision and we need to get started with a place that is big enough to accommodate it all.