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(FORBES) – Women have long ruled the kitchens of the Caribbean, but sadly the restaurants of the region do not depict this norm. Surveys have revealed anywhere between 7 percent and 20 percent female representation within the global restaurant sector— the Caribbean is no exception to this reality.
But a female counter-culture is slowly beginning to emerge. In privately owned professional kitchens, women like Manuela Scalini, Patrice Harris-Henry, Maria Jackson, Taymer Mason and Britta Bush are responding to the Caribbean’s outwardly looking culinary industry and offering novel dining experiences that are changing the way the Caribbean and the rest of the world looks at food.
These are not just food professionals— they are revolutionaries. They work outside the confines of a food system that is dominated by processed and imported foods with high rates of hunger, malnutrition, obesity and non-communicable diseases. They are redefining the Caribbean nutritional and gastronomic paradigm with naturally delicious locally sourced food innovations. And what’s more— they are doing it in a field that is overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Maria Jackson— Organic gourmet chocolate maker
Given its rich organic soil, Saint Lucia has among the finest cacao beans in the world and Maria Jackson, who is a pastry chef by profession, had a life long dream of starting her own line of craft chocolate.
In 2011, Jackson began to innovate with organic cacao beans, which resulted in the conception of indigenous artisan chocolate company, Cacoa Sainte Lucie.
“For me the vision behind my chocolate first and foremost is love for confections,” she explains. “I grew up in Saint Lucia during a time that we didn’t make chocolate. We never fully explored the full potential of cacao beans. I really saw an opportunity of agro-processing beyond just the typical export and I invested my all in this business of craft chocolate.”
Handcrafted from bean to bar and consisting of only organically grown Saint Lucian chocolate, cocoa butter, sugar and local spices, the Cacoa Sainte Lucie line includes 60 and 70 percent gourmet dark chocolate and an up and coming 88 percent chocolate product. Among her other products are pure organic cacao nibs, cocoa tea powder, dark chocolate covered almonds and boxed chocolate truffles with various fillings.
Jackson also offers Bean to Bar tours in her community of Canaries, where she goes to great lengths to support the local economy and women in particular.
“Craft chocolate is similar to fine wine,” says Jackson of Cacao Saint Lucie. “There is little to no processing involved. We allow the true flavours of the cocoa beans to come through. It is a beautiful sensory experience; given that the beans are so close to their natural state, there are so many flavour profiles.”