The Barbados Food and Rum Festival celebrated its tenth anniversary last month with a series of events aimed at sealing the country’s place as the culinary capital of the Caribbean. The island, which benefits from a constant flow of tourists year round, has seen a rebirth in its restaurant industry with dozens of new, chic places for visitors to enjoy – offering locations that are instantly instagram-able both for their beauty and for the food and drink served up against a backdrop of sunny skies and blue seas.
Through MovieTowne and in partnership with the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc (BTMI), I was privy to tour the island, first through its natural attractions and a stay at the unforgettable Sea Breeze Beach House Resort on the southern coast and then at the festival itself. The premiere event, Epicure: An Evening of Elegance, was held at Ilaro Court, on the grounds of the official residence of Prime Minister Mia Mottley. Nestled just below the gazebo on the grounds, the event drew locals, visitors from the diaspora and tourists to the venue below towering trees, featuring world-renowned chefs and world-class mixologists alongside Barbados’ famous and growing rum brands such as Mount Gay, Doorly’s, Cockspur and Foursquare among others. Each team comprised a mix of local chefs from dozens of restaurants on the island who supported celebrity international chefs and presented bite-sized samplings of everything from the island’s favourite – pork, to experimental offerings like panna cotta topped with passion fruit tapioca pearls. Mixologists on hand delighted the audience with their top three beverages too. One of the favourites of the night came from international-award winning, Bajan bartender Phillip Antoine (IG @phillipcasanova) who offered up a Spiced Rum Punch served in a glass first smoked with cinnamon bark to bring forth the nuances of the island’s favourite drink. A rum punch in Barbados is second to none in the world and the island is the birthplace of the spirit with the oldest distilled rum in the world, Mount Gay, first appearing in the year 1703.
As patrons danced the night away to the voice of Alison Hinds serving up her greatest hits, it was a fantastic close to the week-long roster of events. Starting with the Oistins world-famous fish fry (on a Thursday for Food and Rum participants in lieu of the usual Friday), where guests witnessed chefs serving up grilled fish and seafood fresh from the waters around the island and adjacent to the Oistins Fish Market. Friday allowed Food and Rum followers to enjoy the best of the island’s restaurants on a Gourmet Safari to infamous restaurants including The Lone Star, The Sandpiper, Naru, Daphne’s, The Colony Club Hotel, Turtle Beach and a half dozen others. Saturday featured a new event to the line-up – Barbados’ first ever Food Truck Mashup. The long lines at each of the food trucks indicated just how much the culinary market has changed on the island – with foodies assembling to experience a higher level of fast food with Caribbean flair.
Key to the success of the week’s festivities was the island’s continued use of traditional and digital media influencer strategies. The tourism arms invited social media influencers from across the Caribbean, Latin America and the US to participate in the festival alongside traditional media outlets from the Caribbean. “As consumers’ booking habits continue to diversify, we are charged with ensuring that we remain competitive, particularly in the digital field. This is why we extended the media coverage invitation to social influencers this time around for the festival. The in-house team found that these influencers have a very robust digital marketing focus, and worked very closely with them on this trip to augment our efforts in marketing destination Barbados,” William ‘Billy’ Griffith, CEO, BTMI shared with Business Day
Any visitor making their way to the island would certainly spend much of their time in the cerulean blue waters and white sands but should also consider a tour of the rum making districts and a definite stop at the recently updated Harrison’s Caves. Given the island’s non-volcanic formation, a tour hundreds of feet below the surface reveals centuries old stalagmite and stalactite formations. Our tour was led by Hyacinth, whose passion and fervour for the caves has never dwindled over her 30 years of leading hundreds of visitors (including A-list celebrities) to tour the dark pools and cathedral-like halls below. The tour was done via tram, but visitors can take careful, guided eco-tours through the caves (and pools) on foot if they like. The caves are a must-see for any tourism student or executive – it’s clean, expertly managed and maintained and staffed by truly passionate people.
Having weathered precarious times in their economy and powering through the seaweed threat on its coasts (where over 90 per cent of the tourist activities and resorts are), Barbados continues to demonstrate first-world thinking to attract first-world visitors to its shores.
Photos courtesy BTMI and Kieran Khan