Baha Mar's Debut Culinary And Arts Festival Was A Master Class In 'All Of The Above'

Marcus Samuelsson and his cadre of charismatic celebrity chefs delivered an event that is already the talk of the Caribbean.

The funny thing about attending so many food festivals throughout the Caribbean and Mexico is that after a while you start to recognize a lot of the guests. Making your way through the crowd, you're bound to nod your head in unison, perhaps even bumping elbows or fists, and sharing a smile. It's all a very simple, friendly way of saying without saying, "You again? They'll let anybody in here."

Truth be told, there's a great reason the faces in these crowds are always so familiar: these events are spectacular, and no one should miss them. Great food, lively parties, entertaining chefs, and plenty of memories—this is a short list of our expectations for island culinary festivals, and it was certainly no different when we recently attended the inaugural Bahamas Culinary and Arts Festival at Baha Mar.

Marcus Samuelsson
The line to see Marcus Samuelsson and try his fried chicken and fish ran from the tent all the way to the stage. | Islands

Few festivals, if any, carry the star power that was on display in Nassau for three spectacular days in October, as Baha Mar's trio of celebrity chefs—Marcus Samuelsson of Marcus at Baha Mar Fish + Chop House, Daniel Boulud of Café Boulud, and Dario Cecchini of Carna—invited some of their famous friends to join the fun and serve up dishes that had guests raving from food station to station.

Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men didn't need to do much to energize this already hyped crowd, but the electric performance certainly didn't hurt. | Islands

The weekend festivities kicked off with a concert by Boyz II Men, who performed on a massive stage in Baha Bay's wave pool, but the legendary group played second fiddle to the charismatic Samuelsson, who possesses an unbelievable ability to command the entire room's attention when he enters. Elvis Presley could have arrived to announce he'd faked his death, and it probably wouldn't have affected the massive lines of guests waiting to take selfies with Samuelsson and the equally vibrant Cecchini, and it especially wouldn't have caused a single person to step out of line for their food samplings.

Ming Tsai
Ming Tsai offered some pointers on how to make eggs a little fluffier in fried rice dishes. | World Red Eye for Baha Mar

Joining the resident superstars were Iron Chef Ming Tsai, Top Chef veteran and restauranteur Carla Hall, Bahamian chef Simeon Hall, Jr., Food Network icon and chef Amanda Freitag, and chef and author Margarita Carrillo. Guests attended special cooking demonstrations hosted by each superstar; for example, Tsai described how his childhood interest in cooking has led him to a remarkable career, all while teaching a devoted audience how to make a simple fried rice dish something a little more exceptional.

Margarita Carrillo
Margarita Carrillo put the finishing touches on a mouth-watering shrimp dish. | Islands

The excitement and culinary creativity were enough to make a guest forget about the "Arts" aspect of the festival, but only a fool would have missed the chance to visit the phenomenal exhibition at The Current Gallery and Art Center's new addition, ECCHO (Expressive Collaborations and Creative House of Opportunities).

(Clockwise from left) Kachelle Knowles' Beach 10, 9, and 8; "Cycle of Abuse" from Sonia Farmer; a trio of paintings from Dave Smith; and "Welcome to the Bahamas" by Sue Bennett Williams, John Cox, Tia Swann, and Tavares Strachan. | Islands

Attendees could have spent hours examining and discussing the displayed works of art with each other and even some of the artists—I openly praised one work of art, not realizing that its creator, artist Kachelle Knowles, was only several feet away. Her work was joined by that of her 11 Strong counterpart Dede Brown and others like Bahamian artist Antonius Roberts, Rochanne Minnis, Ritchie Eyma, Dave Smith, and Amos Ferguson, among others. The collection featured so many powerful and captivating pieces that I didn't even notice some of Shepard Fairey's popular works until I was leaving.

Avocado and Spiny Lobster Salad
(Clockwise from bottom left) Daniel Boulud's Grilled Avocado and Spiny Lobster Salad and his Grilled Whole Snapper; Marcus Samuelsson's Down Town Jerk Chicken. | World Red Eye for Baha Mar

At an event that had the entire island buzzing and one massive resort at full capacity, it's hard to believe there could have been anything better than the food, drinks, entertainment, and artwork, but Samuelsson, a permanent fixture of any spotlight, gave the gathered masses one last reason to erupt into cheers and applause: next year's festival is already scheduled.

Baha Mar chefs
The lineup for next year's event is unknown, but there will be tall aprons to fill. | World Red Eye for Baha Mar

The second annual Bahamas Culinary and Arts Festival will begin on October 13, 2023. It's nearly impossible to believe this year's event could be topped, and yet I have a feeling we haven't seen anything yet.