Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman summed it up perfectly: “This moment that we’re having right now all together will never happen again. So, understand that this is a celebration. This is all of us here – surviving. This is all of us here enduring all of the things we had to go through these past couple of years. We’re here together celebrating. It’s Black. It’s white. It’s young. It’s old. We are all here together united with one thing in mind: to enjoy life.” Enjoying life was what it was about during the The Bahamas Culinary & Art Festival presented by Baha Mar.
Baha Mar planned an amazing weekend of food and art for the inaugural The Bahamas Culinary & Arts Festival. Well … party done! Even Mother Nature dared not make an appearance.
An exclusive evening welcome known as Sundown & Sips hosted by chef Marcus Samuelsson at Marcus Fish + Chophouse which featured curated passed hors d’oeuvres and libations by Grey Goose Essences. The visiting celebrity chefs – Daniel Boulud, Dario Cecchini, Amanda Freitag, Carla Hall, Margarita Carrillo, Ming Tsai, and Juan Meza, made an appearance at the event which the Rake n’ Scrape Curbside Rockers turned out for all access pass holders.
Then we made the trek over to the Welcome Party featuring Boyz II Men, the beloved R&B trio.
Wanya Morris, Stockman, and Nathan Morris decked all in white, took to the stage built in the pool at Baha Bay Lagoon…and from the opening cords of “Motownphilly” one of their biggest singles – they absolutely owned the welcome party. And like we like to say in The Bahamas, “party done!” The trio delivered single after single – “It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday,” “4 Seasons of Loneliness,” “I’ll Make Love To You” which they sang while tossing red roses to their female fans to “One Sweet Day” with Mariah Carey. And they refused to let up during their set that run more approximately an hour-and-a-half and that also included their classics like “Water Runs Dry,” “I’ll Make Love To You,” “On Bended Knee,” and “End of the Road” which they interspersed with covers of Bob Marley & The Wailers “Jamming” and The Beatles’ “Come Together.”
The trio closed asking everyone to simply remember where they were, what they were doing, and who they were doing it with the first time they heard their number one single “End of the Road” which signaled the end of the road for their performance, that proved to be everything it promised to be and then some, proving to be the perfect start to the weekend of festivities.
After day one, it was all about being strategic, as the three-day festival presented by Baha Mar showcased an absolutely jam-packed array of events with something for everyone. So-much-so that it was sometimes difficult trying to determine where you wanted to go and what you wanted to do. Honestly you wanted to take it all in, but that was impossible. You simply had to be as strategic as possible about choices.
I opted for “Sea To Table” with Marcus Samuelsson and Simeon Hall Jr., first up on Saturday morning. It was literally sea to table as we set off for an hour-long cruise of Nassau Harbour with the chefs, before returning to Baha Mar for an intimate lunch curated by Samuelsson at his restaurant Marcus Fish + Chophouse, which featured Marcus’ signature cornbread with rum butter, a roasted suckling pig and grilled local catch served up from the beach side grill, along with other offerings that showcased and highlighted Bahamian ingredients, including a conch and rice that tasted like it came out of grammy’s kitchen, along with rum cake and soursop sorbet.
The Expo at the Baha Bay Lawn was not to be missed. It was there that local chefs were featured and all the talks took place. I caught a culinary demonstration of plant-based chorizo pigeon pea fried rice with mango-avocado salsa by chef Ming Tsai and an artist conversation on “Defying Tropicality: A discussion on being a contemporary artist in the Caribbean with Sonia Farmer and Nicolette Bethel, moderated by John Cox, before I headed home for a quick turnaround for the Grand Dine Around experience at Carna curated by Dario Cecchini and Amanda Freitag.
Carna featured two courses each by Cecchini – red wine marinated short rib ravioli and hand-selected cuts of beef (eye of rib, spinalis, tri tip and pichanha) and from Freitag – crispy kataifi shrimp with preserved lemon and black garlic tahina, and stuffed piquillo pepper (charred eggplant, white gazpacho, and marcona almond) rounded out with polenta, and charred carrots with goat cheese crumble and candied thyme) with each course accompanied by complementing wine.
The Dine Around also featured guests at Marcus Up top with Samuelsson and chef Garrette Bowe, Boulud with chefs Boulud and Tsai; with Carla Hall, Margarita Carrillo and Juan Meza along with Simeon Hall Jr., at the Mexican-inspired Costa.
Diners from each of the restaurants came together at Privilege Pool for Desserts After Dark which featured bites from local chefs, passed sweets and special cocktails in an amazing party atmosphere.
And that was just day two!
I had opted for the “Long Cay Luncheon Private Island Brunch” for day three, which meant I, along with other guests choosing this option, would be whisked away to Baha Mar’s lush island hideaway of Long Cay to spend a “relaxing” day on pristine sands enjoying live music with all the festival’s chefs and a menu from Boulud and Samuelsson. I had packed so many hours into the first two days, that I missed the barefoot chic culinary experience and ultimate beach getaway, but managed to catch a portion of the Sunday Expo, particularly Samuelsson’s cooking demonstration and the new styled boiled fish with yellow grits.
I was delighted to see that Samuelsson had invited the student contestants in the Young Chef competition that is underway to the event on Sunday, and that he engaged them through his demonstration, and doled out copies of his cookbook “The Rise: Black Cooks And The Soul Of American Food” to the students. As he likes to say, someone gave him a hand up, and he is always looking back to give aspiring chefs the same opportunity presented to him.
Seven students in the culinary program at The University of The Bahamas were also selected to participate in the festival to assist the chefs.
The culinary and art festival concluded par for the course with a Junkanoo rushout.
With a successful inaugural Bahamas Food and Cultural Festival in the books, Graeme Davis, president at Baha Mar said the vision for the event presented by Baha Mar was one he had before the pandemic, and had intentions to launch in March 2020 – but “the world fell apart.”
As it returned to its “new normal” he said he knew they had to get the show back on the road to celebrate the “incredible and exceptional culinary powerhouses” that they had represented at the first festival.
Typically, it’s fusing of food and wine – Baha Mar opted to celebrate the cultural aspects of incredible Bahamian art.
The weekend also saw Baha Mar launch ECCHO (Expressive Collaborations & Creative House of Opportunities), a brand new 13,000-square foot multifunctional creative platform for local and international artists. The new space is an addition of Baha Mar’s existing art program, The Current Gallery & Art Center, which aims to forge relevant and meaningful connections with creative communities.
John Cox, Baha Mar’s executive director of arts and culture, said ECCHO represents an exciting new chapter for their art program.
The Current’s mission is to support the development of Bahamian art so that it intersects with new philosophies, audiences, and platforms, both locally and abroad through captivating exhibitions and installations by partnering with local, regional, and international artists and institutions.
To expand Baha Mar’s current art platform, ECCHO is partnering with The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. In a first-of-its-kind partnership for the 20-year-old historic gallery, ECCHO will exhibit a 5,000-square foot satellite exhibition space for the NAGB, marking the first time the museum has showcased outside its current location.
The opening featured the premiere exhibition from two of The Current’s 11 Strong artists, Dede Brown and Kachelle Knowles entitled “Beguile,” curated by Averia Wright, curatorial manager.
On opening day ECCHO featured the second iteration of The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ permanent exhibition titled “Hard Mouth” curated by Richardo Barrett and Natalie Willis-Whylly, as well as original artwork by renowned American artist Shepard Fairey.
ECCHO will also significantly expand The Current’s exhibition space, and house the relaunch of Baha Mar’s artist-in-residence program with artist Lynn Parotti, as well as support curated programming year-round including artist talks and lectures, musical events, and more.
The new space is designed with an industrial chic esthetic, from a raw, exposed ceiling, to moveable walls and polished concrete floors, making the space adaptable for events and exhibitions alike.
ECCHO’s grounds will also feature spaces such as the Library Lounge, which will serve as a welcoming salon for visitors to meet and attend curated programming, and the Courtyard, where guests can enjoy tropical outdoor concerts and other al fresco art performances.
“It expands our ability to incorporate art and culture into the ethos of the Baha Mar experience through unprecedented new partnerships, a dynamic new platform, and an overall larger footprint across the resort,” said Cox.
“The Current and ECCHO have transformed into their own district within the resort, and it’s essential for us to broaden the conversation about art in hospitality and Bahamian culture in a meaningful way to the region, country, and beyond,” said Cox.
Parotti, a London-based Bahamian artist who specializes in oil paintings of both the physical and psychological landscape, will be The Current’s first artist in residence at ECCHO. In addition to the exhibits launching on opening day, ECCHO will also showcase many more consigned works from large format paintings to sculptures that were previously not on display at The Current.
And Samuelsson who helmed the weekend promises that The Bahamas Culinary & Arts Festival presented by Baha Mar will only grow.
“We worked the whole year to make this happen. Graeme, you had the vision and set the table to make this happen, but all of these collaborators came together. What’s going to come out of this festival are incredible culinarians for the next 15-20 years that will completely transform us as a dining destination. “It’s only going to get better,” said Samuelsson. “It’s not the end of the road.”