Classy Chef Natasha de Bourg has a lot cooking up

Trini chef and media personality Natasha de Bourg aka The Classy Chef. -
Trini chef and media personality Natasha de Bourg aka The Classy Chef. -

TRINI chef and media personality Natasha de Bourg, aka the Classy Chef, is one very busy woman.

She is president of the Trinidad Culinary Association (TCA), judges international culinary competitions and produces and appears in multiple television shows. And she is preparing to add two more projects to her very full plate, namely a Caribbean/African culinary documentary series and an executive-chef position in the US.

Newsday caught up with De Bourg and chatted about her various activities in a recent interview, starting with the TCA.

She founded the association, which aims to preserve Trinidad and Tobago's culinary heritage, inspire creativity, and establish the country as a world-class culinary destination, last year, after returning from 13 years working abroad.

"Because I had this vision where I wanted to see the progression of culinary tourism and the culinary heritage and DNA preserved not just in TT but in the Caribbean as a whole. Because a lot of people go out of Trinidad and they don't come back home to give back to their country. So I wanted to be that person to come back."

She said while chefs are traditionally egoistic and would "fight" with other chefs, she wanted to pool together all chefs, including amateurs, experienced chefs and pioneers, to give back to Trinidad.

She recalled when TCA started she received a bit of opposition.

Chef Natasha de Bourg, second from right, with the winning TT team at the first annual Caribbean Baking Awards in the British Virgin Islands. -

"I am this young female chef, and the culinary world is known as a male industry."

De Bourg said she had to face the foundational chefs in TT who did not know who she was.

"But it didn't take long (to convince them). After one meeting they were on board with me."

She reported the TCA has more than chefs, bakers and culinary enthusiasts on its Instagram page and a private WhatsApp group with more than 80 chefs and restaurant owners.

She said her vision for the TCA includes making nationals aware of the culinary industry. She added that the industry is not appreciated because people are not aware of how much work it takes.

"Trinidad is a cultural country and Trinidad cannot be sustainable with two days of Carnival. It's just two days for the year, and yes, we are booked out and sold out. But I think Trinidad is so much more than Carnival."

De Bourg, a Christian, quoted Hosea 4:6, "My people perish for lack of knowledge," and applied it to the local culinary industry.

"Our education system, when it comes to culinary (matters), has been closed down. And that is why, when you go to restaurants, you don't get the level of quality that you would get. Because if you are not trained properly, then you cannot give what you don't have."

She said the results of the lack of education and training in the industry are cheap labour, inconsistent food quality and people who lack knowledge about what they have to produce.

"They are just working for money because it's a job."

De Bourg said she has started to build a structure for a culinary education for TT and added she is well connected with the Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation, the academic accreditation body in the UK. She also said she has friends who are professors at Harvard University teaching culinary psychology and who were willing to visit TT to establish the subject here.

She explained the TCA's mission is to represent the culinary arts by providing experience, training and innovation and to give the industry a voice and a platform.

"Because I just don't think we have a voice."

She recalled late last year she applied to government entities for a culinary festival, but the request was denied.

She said Barbados, by contrast, has seen the importance of the culinary arts and has announced its culinary festival for 2024 (Barbados Food and Rum Festival, in October). (The event began in 2009 as the Barbados Food, Wine and Rum Festival and was rebranded in 2016 as the Barbados Food and Rum Festival.)

"Why do I have to fight to make culinary be seen (in TT)?"

She cited the Unesco 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage and its "efforts to safeguard and promote culinary traditions as part of intangible cultural heritage."

Chef Natasha de Bourg, left, with Harvard Extension School educators Chef Sanjay Kak from India, centre, and Neil Rippington from England. -

Culinary competitions in India, BVI

De Bourg contrasted the situation in TT with India, where in January she was a judge in the Culinary Olympiads competition. which featured 60 countries, 60 mentors and more than 35 judges.

She said the organisers contacted her about representing the Caribbean and TT because they had not had a representative from the region before. On the panel, she was the only woman and the youngest judge, and said she was honoured to be among the other esteemed judges.

The competition began with a grand opening ceremony in Delhi and then the 60 competing countries were sent out into different parts of India – Calcutta, Goa, Hyderabad and Mumbai – for testing. De Bourg described the logistics as "mind-blowing."

"Something they are doing right. And I wish we could take pattern after them."

De Bourg left India for the British Virgin Islands to be a judge at the inaugural Caribbean Baking Awards. She said she was honoured to be alongside self-taught cake artist and popular YouTube personality Yolanda Gampp.

"She is really humble and passionate about what she does."

During the competition she was able to see the skills of the different Caribbean countries as they built cakes on the spot. She explained that as a Trinidadian she recused herself from judging TT, as she did not want to seem biased.

"Trinidad did amazingly well."

The TT cake was a destination wedding cake that told a story – it was named "Queen of Bacchanal" after soca artiste Destra Garcia. With that cake Dexter Cambridge, 23, won the award aka Best of Show.

Another Trinidadian, Vishanna Jaimungal, together with Tatiana Gibs of St Martin, won an award for the best learning experience. Jaimungal, of Lavish Cake Supplies, also won an award for Best Cake Supply Store.

"So we walked away with three of the awards, which is great for me to see.

"This is the reason that I'm fighting for what I'm fighting for. This is the reason. Because I know Trinidad will remain the mecca of culinary...because of our cultural diversity and what it brings. We inherently have that to give."

De Bourg said while some other Caribbean countries had French/African culture, TT also has Indians, Syrians, Venezuelans, Africans and Chinese.

"This melting flavour-pot that our palates were born into and adapted to and we are able to reproduce that to give to the world."

Classy Chef Natasha de Bourg, second row, third from left, with the other judges at the Young Culinary Olympiads in India. -

Trailblazing and making television

Last year, at the Creative Africa Nexus (Canex) programme in Egypt, De Bourg spoke about how African food came to the Caribbean, the Americas and the diaspora, and how to change the way countries see the culinary arts through culinary diplomacy. Someone from Rwanda heard her speech and she was nominated by BlackGatstories, a group in the Central African country that seeks to empower the black community, for the country's Trail Blazer Entrepreneur award, and received it. De Bourg said unfortunately she could not attend the ceremony last month, owing to financial constraints.

Receiving the award, she said, "was very emotional for me. I was sad I (could not) be there to receive the award. It is humbling knowing where I came from to where I am today. It gives me a bit more encouragement to continue fighting for what I fight for. And to know what I'm doing, someday it will be worthwhile."

Also at Canex she met with representatives of an African television news network, Africa24. They asked if she was serious about bringing change to the Caribbean and De Bourg replied that she was. She told them that the only way change could happen was through awareness.

The Caribbean, she said, was seen in a negative light because of slavery or indentured labour.

"(But) I think there is triumph out of it. Although there is pain, there is also beauty with the pain.

"We were adapted to flavours and ingredients and produce that make us who we are today.

"Why do people travel to the Caribbean? Because of the fruits and the food and all these different things. It's not just for blue (seas) and white sand."

De Bourg will be working with the Africa24 team on the documentary series CarriAfrica, "which will explore cultural heritage through the lens of food DNA. It will start in three countries, TT, Jamaica and Barbados, and will trace cultural footsteps through ingredients and food. She said the series will air in Africa and also in the Caribbean, and the next season will see the team going to Africa to trace ingredients.

De Bourg has previously taken her culinary talents to the television screen. She appeared on Season 2 of the American reality television series Below Deck Sailing Yacht, currently streaming on Netflix, and has produced and featured in five culinary-related shows: Momstration on CEEN TV; Carnival Cocktail Coolers on TTT; Cooking with the Classy Chef and Christmas in July, both on Flow; and an upcoming series called The Road Less Travelled.

De Bourg reported she has signed with Canada, Paris and the US to get all five shows distributed across the world. "Which is a big accomplishment for me as well. I did not know anything about film, and in one year I was able to produce five (shows)."

De Bourg, who has worked at seven Michelin-starred restaurants, will take her talents to Annapolis, Maryland, US, in May, to become an executive chef at the new restaurant Rumhouse. She said she will open the restaurant for a couple she met last year who had hired her as their "menu engineer."

Chef Natasha de Bourg, right, with self-taught baker and YouTuber Yolanda Gampp, left, and hospitality educator and Young Chef Olympiad founder Dr Suborno Rose at the Caribbean Baking Awards in the British Virgin Idlands. -

Rumhouse will be high-end fine dining, and there will be dishes from the Caribbean refined into high-end food. She said, for example, the bread basket may contain a mini buss-up shut, mini cocoa bread, johnny bake or coconut bake, and there may be dishes like oxtail croquettes, jerk chicken and cold cuts.

"It is telling a story of who we are as a people and making people out there in the world experience who we are."

And how is de Bourg able to find balance in her life with so many projects on her table?

"That's what passion does. That's the difference between working and being passionate about what you do. I don't really see it as a job. It's my adrenaline that pushes me to my fullest potential, and I will continue being an advocate, a change and a voice for the culinary sector, culinary tourism and culinary strategy."

De Bourg added that she does not want to be mediocre – she wants to leave a legacy to her name.


"Classy Chef Natasha de Bourg has a lot cooking up"

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