The flavor renderer
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
Published: Mar 11, 2017
A “Bahamian-ized” version of a popular Japanese street food known a takoyaki (a popular Japanese street food served traditionally with bits of octopus or other alternatives, inside a slightly crispy shell) was just one of a number of elevated food items culinary artist Chef Ron Johnson showcased for the Bahamian palate at the fourth annual Festival RumBahamas. His version entailed lobster and plantain with a sweet potato, rum and coconut puree.
And you couldn’t help but salivate at just the thought of his Coca-Cola and tamarind sorbet; guava duff donuts; rum and vanilla bean ice cream with a rum toffee sauce in a mini waffle cone; and his crispy shrimp grits. Johnson was one of those people that brought the flavor to the festival — and utilized rum in food in various creative ways; because as he said, you can’t have food without rum and rum without food.
The festival gave the culinary artist and private/personal chef a platform to express himself culinary wise. It also gave the general public the opportunity to indulge in the offerings of a chef that on any given day couldn’t partake of his food, because they won’t find the chef in any restaurant on island as he services high-end clients and is in demand in the yachting industry.
Johnson donned triple hats for the three-day festival. He did demonstrations in the sugarcane kitchen where he utilized rum in food in creative ways, and demoed a rum and vanilla bean ice cream with a rum toffee sauce in a mini waffle cone; the lobster and plantain takoyaki; and his crispy shrimp grits with rum Creole sauce.
He was also the man in charge of the Coca-Cola VIP Party for 100 people in which he utilized Coca-Cola soda in different ways — a Coke braised pulled pork on a pigeon pea pancake; mushroom Parmesan strudel with a Cuba Libre shot; double chocolate chip cookies with Coca-Cola and chocolate dipping sauce with a Coke and tamarind sorbet.
On the personal side of things he showcased his own unique offerings with his Flavour Unit booth from which he fried up many yummy offerings, like his much-requested guava duff donuts with guava sauce glaze; shrimp corn dog with spiced rum banana dressing; conch taco with avocado cream, tomato rum salsa and rum pickled jalapeno. A Bahamian stew chicken with crispy creamed corn and herbed cornbread; banana rum cake with butterscotch ice cream and raisin pepper; a pulled pork, pigeon pea pancake and crisp onions were also among his culinary offerings.
Johnson says it was a lot over the three days, and overwhelming at times, but he said he kept his composure and just prayed that all went well. His main goal was to ensure that everything was tasty first and foremost.
“When you’re cooking, your name is on the line every single time. Consistency is key,” said the culinary artist.
And exactly just how did he come up with his many flavor profiles?
They came to him in his head — and about a month out from the festival.
“I’m amazed at how these flavors just come about, because sometimes they come spontaneously. I come up with flavors in my mind before actually doing the dish, so that’s a positive thing and a scary thing, because sometimes I’m doing those dishes for the first time and passing it off as if I’ve done it for quite some time. But you get to develop those flavor profiles either through experience or reading detailed books, so I credit it to being well read and well-versed to a point. Granted you won’t know everything, but that’s what I credit to developing those flavor profiles.”
When he thinks about everything he put out, asking him what was his favorite was almost like asking him to choose between his children. He almost couldn’t, but after giving it some thought, he admitted to really liking his Coke and tamarind sorbet on the Coca-Cola side. He said he personally gets a kick out of making his guava duff donuts, just to showcase that aspect of Bahamian cuisine can be flipped for a broader audience, but the local base would still be able to identify with the flavors.
“I’m always glad to be able to elevate Bahamian cuisine,” he said.
In terms of his demos, he said the lobster takoyaki with the sweet potato puree was a challenge that he was happy to tackle because making it isn’t as easy as it looks.
In getting everything done, he tapped into his friendship with Chef Sheldon Sweeting to give Bahamians the opportunity to partake in elevated cuisine.
“I’m very thankful to have a friend like Alexandra [Maillis-Lynch, festival founder] to give me the platform and opportunity to express myself culinary-wise.”
Going forward, Chef Johnson said he wants people to realize that they are coming to Festival RumBahamas for the rum and food. He said too many people think of it as all about drinking, and not the food.
Johnson said he and Maillis-Lynch have engaged in discussions about him spearheading the culinary side of the festival in a major way going forward.
“We have to find ways to emphasize that it’s about food too. Yes, rum is the integral part of it, hence the name, but I guess people develop an opinion when they hear the word rum, but rum has been such a major part of our history and I credit her [Maillis-Lynch] for trying to showcase the food with the rum, because you can’t have drinks without food,” he said.
Johnson, who was the team manager of the Bahamian squad that captured the Taste of the Caribbean culinary competition in 2015, said going forward he encouraged people to support the unique festival that’s getting rave reviews internationally.