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FAMILY BUSINESS: Beverley Knight (left) helps out her mother Deloris Smith (right) with event organiser Joan Blaney, at Birmingham's first Caribbean food festival.

WITH THE turkey and mince pies already a distant memory, 2013 looks set to be the year for Caribbean cuisine to make its mark in Northern Ireland.

First it was Birmingham that took the lead in holding the first-ever Caribbean Food Festival in 2011, which was extended to a three-day event in 2012, weeks before the Olympics.

And now Northern Ireland has also revealed an appetite for a taste of the Caribbean after holding talks with organisers in Birmingham to learn valuable insights on staging a similar event.

Belfast’s cultural expert and head chef Carlos Arguelles has discussed opportunities with Birmingham’s festival organiser Joan Blaney, CBE, and Sir Albert Bore, leader of Birmingham City Council.

Bonanza

A date has now been set for August 27 for Belfast to hold its first Caribbean Food Festival, while Birmingham will hold its third Caribbean food bonanza between Thursday, May 16 and Saturday, May 18 in the heart of Birmingham.

Blaney, who is also co-founder and chair of the West Midlands Trading Alliance (WMTA) and CEO of the House of Blue Mountain, a specialist Birmingham-based Jamaican coffee importer supplying Harvey Nichols, said: “The interest Belfast has shown in following Birmingham shows the great international interest being shown in our festival.

“There are real economic advantages in Birmingham’s diverse cultural heritage. During London 2012, Jamaican track and field heroes Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake gave our city an international seal of approval by telling the world to ‘Big Up Birmingham.’”

She added: “After staying here in the vital days before the Olympics, the athletes gave Birmingham the kind of publicity money cannot buy. We now need to unlock thousands of pounds worth of business for the region. We’re delighted that Belfast wants to hold a similar event.

Blaney revealed that “talks are already in place for attracting some major new sponsors to the event in Birmingham in May.”

Sir Albert noted that “The Caribbean Festival is a local success story that underscores Birmingham’s strengths, showing cultural diversity and business can work hand in hand.”

Last year Sir Albert said Birmingham’s African Caribbean population had contributed to ‘a wonderful few weeks in the city’s history’ with the visit from the Jamaican track and field team and the city centre celebrations of Jamaica’s 50th anniversary of Independence on August 6.

Last year’s independently-run Caribbean food festival was headed by Reggae Reggae sauce entrepreneur Levi Roots, who also judged a Caribbean cook-off at Birmingham’s Sea Life Centre, which highlighted the high standard of Caribbean cuisine in the city.

At the time Roots said: “I could taste the passion with which these dishes were made. These chefs have really pushed the culinary boundaries, using a lot of enterprise and initiative to take Caribbean food from something homely to something exquisite.”

The cook-off’s overall winner was Ian Edwards, owner of Sharian’s Cuisine, who won with a sea bass dish that included okra, peppers, garlic, allspice and thyme.

Sharian’s is supporting this year’s festival, along with Alison and Robert Bailey of Bailey’s Restaurant, and owner of Mish Mash Frank Beckford, who all took part in last year’s event.

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