Turks & Caicos Conch Festival

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

Love seafood? Love the conch? As anyone who's been to the Caribbean can attest, this is one tasty food. Here's a food festival to satisfy the gourmet foodie - the Turks & Caicos Conch Festival, to be held on November 29th, 2008 at Blue Hills, Providenciales. I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Mike Sottak, President of the Conch Festival.

 

2013 update! To be held on November 30, 2013

 

Here's what he had to say...

 

WE:  What is the history of the Conch Festival?

MS: The Conch Festival was started 5 years ago with several goals:

1) celebrate our most important export and food product and a key part of our country's history;
2) hold an 'off season' event in an area of TCI that doesn't get as much tourist traffic;
3) showcase our best chefs/restaurants;
4) showcase aspects of our native culture - food, dance, music, fishing;
5) raise money for a community park in the Blue Hills area where the Festival is held

Portions of the proceeds from this year’s event will go toward helping rebuild the conch fishing industry in historic South Caicos, the islands’ fishing hub, which was badly damaged during the recent Hurricanes Hanna and Ike.

This year the Conch Festival has an even more special significance in the wake of the hurricanes we’ve weathered. It will be an opportunity to show the world we are back on our feet and pay tribute to the resilience of our tourism and fishing industries, particularly the conch fisherman on South Caicos, which took a major hit. We’ve added even more excitement this year, with a chance for the wining chefs to represent TCI on the international stage at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, so we expect the competition to be even more delicious than ever.

 

WE: Please tell us about the Conch...

MS: CONCH -  (pronounced 'konk') is a common name for certain large marine snails. They are gastropod mollusks, the most commercially important of which are in the family Strombidae. The specific species we are concerned with here is the queen, or pink-lipped conch, Strombus gigas, which can be found in warm waters of the Atlantic and the Caribbean from Florida to Brazil. Their shells have overlapping whorls with a bright colored pink lip, which can reach a length of 12 to 13 inches. The operculum, which is the covering of the shell opening, is a claw like structure which the conch uses to dig into the sand and push itself along the bottom. They are plant eaters and can live as long as 25 years.

Conch is the second best known edible snail, the first being escargot from Burgundy, France. Conch has been a popular food source throughout the Caribbean since the time of the Arawak Indians, before Christopher Columbus. The Arawaks also carved the spiral shells into various tools, musical horns (there are still conch-horn blowing contests throughout the Caribbean) and ceremonial objects. They are still an important food source for natives of Haiti and the Bahamas, who use it in soups and salads.

Conch meat has a mild, sweet clam-like flavor. Some of the most common uses are for conch fritters, conch chowder, conch steaks and marinated raw conch salad.

 

WE: What sorts of events are going on, during the Conch Festival?

MS: For the restaurants, this year more than pride is on the line at the annual “conch-e-tition” as the winning chefs will be invited to represent the Turks and Caicos Islands at the South Beach Food & Wine Festival in February 2009.  More than 20 local restaurants will be participating in the marquee event to judge who are the best conch chefs and win big cash prizes.  An entry fee of just $20 gives visitors a chance to sample all the dishes and a vote for the Best in Festival award.  Celebrity judges will select the winners in categories for best chowder, salad and specialty dishes, including Chef Dean Max from 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Chef Clay Conley of Azul in Miami, and Jane Sigal, freelance food critic and travel writer whose articles have appeared in the New York Times, Food & Wine Magazine and other publications.

Besides the always delectable restaurant competitors, this year’s event features three live bands, including live music from the Island Boyz and our own world-renowned Junk-a-Noo, with two separate rushes during the Festival.

You don’t have to be a chef to win prizes as there will be special Conch Competitions for conch blowing, conch knocking and a conch hunt in the sea. In the conch knocking contest, the winning performance will be submitted to the Guinness Book of World Records to establish a new world standard for the speed and skill of extracting the slimy creature from its beautiful shell.

The island best bartenders will be on display too, with a Mojito-making competition sponsored by Bacardi.  The islands’ finest mixologists will compete to see who makes the best Mojito, that tasty Cuban concoction of rum, mint and sugar.

The Conch Festival is family-friendly event with plenty of games and activities for the kids, including the Department of Culture and Youth’s David Bowen running his famous kids games on the beach and showcasing local culture.  There will be bouncy castles and cartoon characters, and maybe even a cameo appearance by “you know who” from the North Pole, who comes calling just a month after the Conch Festival.

The Rotary Club of Providenciales continues its tradition of letting one lucky Conch Festival guest walk away with $10,000.  The Club is selling tickets for its annual Pot-of-Gold Draw at the event with the drawing taking place at 5:30PM.  Buy your tickets early because there is only a limited number available. Tickets will be on sale the day of the event, and also available from local Rotarians all month long.

 

WE:  How can visitors give back, when they participate? Are there volunteer opportunities, etc.?

MS: Just by showing up they help the cause! Not so much volunteer opps, but there are contests and games they can participate in - conch blowing, conch knocking (like oyster shucking)

 

WE:  Where can people find out more about where to stay?

MS: www.turksandcaicostourism.com or www.turksandcaicoshta.com

 

WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

MS: It's a great native event that appeals to locals and visitors alike. An excellent chance to see an area of TCI visitors might normally not go to and see all the various aspects of the conch on display - as a fishing product, as a food stuff, the beauty and usefulness of its shell etc. etc. A fun time with lots of friendly people!

WE: Thanks so much, Mike! I hope your festival is a great success this year - we hope to come visit and participate!

For more information, please see:

conchfestival.com/go/en/home.html

Conch Festival 

 

 

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