Before we begin I just want to say that this is not a review of the Food and Rum Festival 2018. I can’t review it because I didn’t attend any of the events. This is an exploration of the reasons why I didn’t attend my favorite food event in Barbados. 2018 may well have been the best Food and Rum Festival to date but I can’t speak to that. This article is an examination into my thought process into not attending this year’s festival.
I remember the first Food, Rum and Wine Festival. I felt lucky that we were having this incredible event take place on our little island. I couldn’t wait to grab as many tickets as possible and soak in all the culinary goodness. This year was a far departure from that. Unsure of whether I would be in the island, I had to wait until the last minute to purchase tickets and when it came down to it, I simply didn’t want to. There was no excitement for any of the available events and once I weighed the cost vs. value, I simply wasn’t sure I wanted to spend the money.
Over the years, many of my peers have said that the events have gone down-hill. I have never had a bad time at any of the events but I have left a few with little or no memories of it. These events weren’t bad but they also weren’t particularly good. They remind me of a mediocre wedding reception in that you’re glad you went, but also fine with leaving less than an hour in. This isn’t the way you should feel about a food festival of this calibre. Some of my highlights throughout the years have been extraordinary rum tastings, seeing Chef Anne Burrell in person and finally tasting Chef Jason Howard’s food. All stand out moments well worth the hefty ticket price.
This year held no real show stopping potential. It may be that they are changing their target demographic and I am no longer the intended audience for the festival. However, in order for it to be successful, shouldn’t there be a strong local audience? Creating an experience which tourists will appreciate is important, however if you can’t keep the local attention, how will you entertain a jaded international audience? From what I saw of the pre-events there was a push to involve the Bajan public. Nonetheless, I question how successful this endeavor was. There was no buzz. Months prior to the festival very little information was known and even less people seemed to care. We have a world class festival yet no one was talking about it? Coming closer to the time there were advertisements, however that spark never lit a flame of interest. The only people talking about the Food and Rum Festival were those involved that needed to be talking about it. There were few unassociated advocates dying of anticipation, promoting the event just because they were excited.
The only event that felt compelling was the Rum Vault Experience, which was sold out by the time I was ready to purchase. Every other affair felt like a recycled event that was interesting five years ago, but has long since lost its appeal. Planning an annual event for almost a decade is difficult but it isn’t an excuse for mediocrity. Every year needs to be to distinct and independently successful. There also needs to be a varied experience so repeat attendees continue to support the project.
Over the years the festival has tried many different events that were interesting but need more development. As a result, I am guessing they were deemed ‘failures’ as opposed to ‘works-in-progress’ and will never see the light of day again despite their potential. I remember in the early days I spent more than a hundred dollars on a festival food demonstration where there was no tasting. You CANNOT have a food event and not feed your guests. Hungry people are the most vindictive people you will ever meet. Cooking demonstrations can be profitable, but they should be interactive. The ultimate experience is cooking alongside the chef, but if that isn’t possible you must at least allow discussions and tastings. I appreciate that they are mixing up the events, but they should be revisited and approached from a different angle. It is easy to develop a ‘been there, done that’ attitude on a small island, so it is critical to create incentives that drive interest. Emphasis on repeat followers builds a strong fanbase.
That being said patrons, have a responsibility as well. While we may not have any real control over the organizing of the event nevertheless, it is our job to be vocal in the discussion about what works and what doesn’t. Constructive criticism is essential, if you don’t like something, address it, but remember you are a supporter so you aren’t trying to tear it down. Furthermore, being vocal about the things you like and want, encourages growth. Like those photos, comment when they ask questions and most importantly, show up when they try something different. Most ideas are good, some just need more work than others. You think they should have an event called ‘Breadfruit Bonanza’ where every chef has to give us a dish highlighting breadfruit? Tell somebody and buy some breadfruit. You know a fantastic local chef who is overlooked every year? Ask a question and submit a name. You think there should be a CARICOM component where Caribbean chefs from countries affected by natural disasters are invited to showcase their talent and raise awareness? Scream it from the rooftops. We all have a part to play.
More than anything else I am disappointed in myself for not showing up. Yes, I was disappointed in this year’s offerings, but that is no excuse for me to not show support. The Food and Rum Festival has proven that they deserve to be patronized. Hopefully next year we will all do better.
Anyhow did you go? What were the highlights? Let me know in the comments below.