After almost six months of planning, moments of immense secrecy, travelling across the ocean with 40 pounds of green pigeon peas and 30 pounds of salt water frozen Bimini conch we arrived at the Food Network Eat Drink Rock event.
Checking into the Club Level rooms of the famed Chicago hotel The Langham, seemed to put it all on the level that made me truly realize that we were here. “Checking into your suite Chef Hall and all the best at tomorrow’s Food Network event,” was just the first of many unsolicited comments that made me feel recognized. However none made me feel like I was in the company of my peers than when a well known chef asked, “Aren’t you the chef from the Bahamas? I’ve seen your work and I’m following you.” In that moment I felt energized to ensure that my dish was the best that it could be.
The professionalism of the hosting culinary team, the food network team and the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism teams resulted in a very smooth preparation day for me and the volunteer students that were assigned to me. The day was filled with salted beef and pork, rehydrating dry conch and peeling onions. The solidarity of being the first chef in the kitchen was soon replaced with the organized chaos of the other participating chefs arrival.
Food preparation quickly took the backseat to chef conversation, food sharing and the exchange of business contacts. Chefs like Craig Adcock, Corry Morris and Michael Psilakis nested into the kitchen where I was and immediately the chef stories started flying. Chef Michael being from Greece was very familiar with my island Flavors. He had grown up eating conch and spicy food and was very interested in my signature dish of, spicy conch cake, coconut oil and oinion jam, liquid fire hot sauce and pickled tomatoes. Flavors he called the perfect island inspired dish, a compliment that I soon echoed after tasting his Greek inspired BLT with kalamata spread.
The night flew pass and the morning met me wide awake and ready. The big day was upon us and I quickly realized that I was equally excited to commune with the chefs as I was to share a Taste of the Bahamas. Just before the day started Chef Michael Psilakis and I chatted over a cup of coffee. I hung on to his every word as we exchanged experiences of traveling around the world, how food has changed and how we both are on the journey to simply cook our regional food and make people happy. After nearly an hour we both summoned by our people for “marketing reasons”.
In walks Dj Sapphire aka Josie Christie, my friend and Bahamian celebrity dj which for me symbolized that the party was about to start, Island style. Shortly after, she began her sound check and for me the Nassau Boy, the Chicago kitchen was slowly morphing into my own back yard. I grabbed a cook that was next to me and showed her the “mash da roach” dance. The hot hot hot party was on the way.
11.30 and the door to the room was opened. Dj Saphiree had some junkanoo beats blazxing and the food was ready to be served. The crowds quickly came to the host table, us and the q and a started. People were very intrigued about food from the Bahamas and the fact that the pepper sauce I made from the local goat peppers was not just hot but flavorfull.
The hot hot hot event was truly a success and the stories the food and I told seemed to feed the crowds curiousity.
2 PM and more mixing and mingling with guests, other chefs and students as I was on the way to the Grand pavilion to feed 1200 hungry concert goers. For this I decided to make old fashion Bahamian peas and rice. It was the way my grandmother taught me. A one pot meal of green pigeon, basmati rice, coconut oil, smoked tomato, dried conch, fresh conch, salt beef, salt pork and a blend of spices. This event the entire MOT team served the guest giving them stories of our rich food culture and inviting them to visit.
Half way through the event I wondered off to the other events and mingle to the chef VIP area where I hung out with a few chefs before the night brought on Chef’s fatigue.
“Until the next time chefs, The islands are gone!”