‘Is­land foods’ hon­our Black His­tory Month


Chef La-toya Fagon loves to pre­pare Ital­ian cui­sine, but Caribbean food is a close sec­ond.

Born in Canada of Ja­maican de­scent, the 30-year-old grew up eat­ing “is­land foods,” so she didn’t truly ap­pre­ci­ate that cui­sine un­til re­cently.

“Now I do be­cause it is just so sim­ple,” she says. “The in­gre­di­ents are very ba­sic and it is ex­tremely flavour­ful and quite healthy if cooked prop­erly — it’s peas­ant food.”

A grad­u­ate of Ge­orge Brown Col­lege in Toronto, Fagon be­gan her ca­reer teach­ing culi­nary skills at an on-site su­per­mar­ket cook­ing school.

Then 10 years ago, she opened Twist, a Scar­bor­ough, Ont., ca­ter­ing firm. It of­fers all types of ca­ter­ing, in­clud­ing for pri­vate and cor­po­rate func­tions, and in­cludes cook­ing classes.

Fagon is tak­ing her food demon­stra­tion skills to Ku­umba, a Black His­tory Month fes­ti­val that runs this week­end (Feb. 13-14) at Toronto’s Har­bourfront Cen­tre.

Ku­umba is the Swahili word for cre­ativ­ity and has be­come syn­ony­mous with show­cas­ing the best lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional artists from the African and Caribbean di­as­pora.

Be­sides food demon­stra­tions there will be dance work­shops, film screen­ings, mu­sic, com­edy and fam­ily ac­tiv­i­ties.

In Canada, Black His­tory Month has its roots in the 1970s. Orig­i­nally it was a week-long cel­e­bra­tion, but it ex­panded into a month-long trib­ute in 1995 when the House of Com­mons of­fi­cially rec­og­nized Fe­bru­ary as Black His­tory Month.

“It means a lot,” says Fagon. “Any­time that a cul­ture can re­ally rep­re­sent it­self and get back into its her­itage and his­tory and bring that forth to other com­mu­ni­ties is a great thing.”

She says that in demon­strat­ing the food of the is­lands at the Ku­umba fes­ti­val, she will show her au­di­ence how pure and in­ex­pen­sive it is.

“ We go back to the ba­sics be­cause the prob­lem th­ese days is that Cana­di­ans are de­vel­op­ing al­ler­gies and other health is­sues from the preser­va­tives and ad­di­tives in pro­cessed foods.”

Caribbean food is a mix­ture of cook­ing tech­niques, flavours, spices and in­flu­ences from Africans, Bri­tish, Span­ish, In­di­ans and Chi­nese, all cul­tures who have in­hab­ited the is­lands.

Now in many cities across Canada gro­cery stores have popped up stock­ing in­gre­di­ents for im­mi­grants from Africa, the Caribbean and else­where.

Th­ese in­gre­di­ents, which are also avail­able in some su­per­mar­kets, in­clude ac­kee, a trop­i­cal fruit, and ox­tail, which is a very bony but flavour­ful beef or veal tail used in stews and soups.

Some pop­u­lar Caribbean dishes in­clude corned beef and cab­bage, jerk chicken, cur­ried goat and cur­ried mut­ton.

Fagon says that for her demon­stra­tion she will be cook­ing Ja­maica’s na­tional dish of ac­kee and salt­fish as well as stew chicken served with peas and rice.

Be­sides her ca­ter­ing busi­ness, Fagon is also work­ing in high schools with black youth at risk.

“I am teach­ing them ba­sic cook­ing skills and how to bud­get,” she says. “They learn how to take $30 and make a meal for five to six peo­ple and then make an­other from the left­overs.”

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