For seven years, Michelle Fountain has been attending Taste of the Islands, a festival that brings together Caribbean zests and atmosphere through food, drinks and music from various islands in the West Indies.
Fountain is one of hundreds of attendees who went to the June 9 event at the Hyatt Regency in Miami, in which chefs and mixologists from islands such as Jamaica, Bonaire, Barbados, Puerto Rico and Suriname hosted booths filled with small bites and drinks that represented the region.
People eat, dance, and socialize while exploring each island’s gastronomy, with many coming back year after year.
“[I like] the atmosphere, the people. Island people are very happy and the quality of food; great tasting food,” said Fountain, who also believes cultural events benefit the city’s knowledge of the Caribbean. “ You learn about the islands. There is a lot of islands and you get to see them here and get a little taste of them.”
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Taste of the Islands is a one-night-only festival part of the Taste of the Caribbean event, in which chefs from all over the Caribbean travel to Miami to compete with food and beverages for the title of Best in the Region.
Organized by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association since 1993, Taste of the Caribbean focuses on forums for gathering practical information, developing skills and strengthening partnerships with the food and beverage industry of the region, through a conference that includes a trade show, educational sessions for members of the industry, a competition and the Taste of the Islands festival.
For $60 per person, attendees enjoyed more than 26 dishes that included conch fritters, shrimp on a stick, rum cakes, yucca cakes and variations of rum-made cocktails such as mojitos or a Jamaican ‘rumgria’ that has a mixture of Jamaican rum, fruit juices, mangos, watermelon and pineapple slices, basil and hot peppers.
Thirteen teams compete during Taste of the Islands, with both savory and sweet dishes and a signature cocktail that represents the flavors of their native land. Trinidad and Tobago won the Best in Region award.
Marv Cunningham, a Bahamian mixologist, won the 2015 Bartender of the Year title for making a cocktail out of conch as well as crafting two other cocktails with a twist — one with alcohol and the other without.
“There is a lot of prestige that comes with the award because when you look at the Caribbean, it’s a very competitive region,” Cunningham said. “So when you look at the amount of flavors and talents that live in the Caribbean, it’s an honor to actually be able to compete against the best in the region.”
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