Chef Simeon Hall Jr.
Local? Why not?
Updated: Nov 28, 2020
It's funny how sitting writing this piece, having recently recovered from COVID-19, I am so tempted to say "I told you so". Surely not about the pandemic, but about how important "LOCAL" is, was and always will be.
When last have you seen a typical Bahamian breakfast in a resort or hotel in New Providence?
In late 2019, global reports indicated that gastro or culinary tourism would continue to grow by up to 10 percent annually through the year 2023. However, forecasters never factored a global pandemic into that equation. It was statistics like this that continued to fuel the worldwide craving for celebrity chefs and their conglomerate of restaurant concepts. However, with borders closed, flights impossible to coordinate, COVID-19 cases rising and the world's uncertainty, restaurants attempting to survive are now mainly focusing on their communities for sheer survival. Michelin-starred restaurants are serving burgers and making food more affordable and approachable for the local market. Fine dining concepts are being repurposed to affordable local-centric eateries and curbside service, once associated with franchised restaurants, is now the new normal for most.
It would be unfair to say that they should have been doing this all along, as we live in a world of varying palettes, but it's also unfair not to acknowledge the fact that "Local" always works. History proves this time and time again. From the great depression, to 9-11 to the 2008/2009 economic collapse - and now this COVID-19 pandemic. So, the question is "Is now the time to provocate that local should always be celebrated in and out of hard times?
Remember the "Buy Local" campaign of the late 90's? Or the island hoping, domestic tourism campaign around the same time right here in The Bahamas? Whatever happened to those? When last have you traded in a far away vacation for a stay at home one? I wonder, shouldn't we have continued such a strong push for local and made that our narrative if we would be better prepared for a time such as this? Why are we so afraid of authentically local? Frankly, what better endorsement for any business other than, "This is where all the locals hang out, shop, eat or drink!".
New Providence alone has over 11,000 hotel rooms with more than a dozen international celebrity chef branded eateries. Yet, we have no locally branded chef restaurants and very few authentically Bahamian restaurants in these same hotels? One must wonder, with such a rise in local craftsmanship, if this lack of representation will change anytime soon? I also wonder if local chefs and craftsmen are getting ready for this inevitable change? Journey back into my space about 10 to 15 years and you will certainly find my footprints shouting from the rooftops and supporting this charge. Despite all my global travels and variety of employment opportunities, the word "local" has always been highlighted. So again, my question is "are we ready to support and build local"?
Whether it be authentic or a modern definition of Bahamian, it is time for us to celebrate local. Whether it be pickled conch from West End, tropical conch salad from Gambier or hand milled grits from Cat Island, supporting local is always the pillar that survives expected and unexpected events.
If you recall, very early on here in The Bahamas at the beginning of COVID-19, the idea of food insecurity quickly became a national and regional concern. Panic buying was a reality and chaos over food shortages possibly helped to spread the virus itself. What if The Bahamas was more agriculturally self-sufficient? What if we grew, processed and retailed more local products right up the street or down the road? What if edible gardens were the landscaping of choice? What if chefs and cooks made menus more flexible to support their local farmers and fishermen? Maybe that would make us more at ease in the face of a global pandemic.
Amazing cows and sheep being raised in Eleuthera, The Bahamas.
The Bajan Prime Minister, the Hon. Mia Mottley, recently said it best in a speech she shared with the region - "We all need to gain more cultural confidence and rise above our self contempt." Bahamians need to learn that no matter how many advances we embrace in technology, modernism, art and other outside influences, the development and appreciation of LOCAL should always come first. Bahamain artists should earn more than invited reggae artists. Local chefs should be celebrated more than international ones, and so should our sports and entertainment heroes as a matter of fact! Frankly speaking, the pride and joy you have listening to the latest reggae melody should pale in comparison to that when you hear a Ronnie Butler song. But sadly, this will all only come not in a turnaround from our own expat and other influences, but from us and those that look, act and sound like we do. Finally, I believe a big part of obtaining this cultural confidence that the Honourable Mia Mottley spoke about comes from an understanding of your history. The Bahamas' history is so deep and rich that it should be the foundation used to jumpstart our future. Then, we'd be bound for greatness.