‘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.”