By Nina Kalirai
Transcribed by Joseph Lopez
Good news for fruit lovers out there. Toronto is all set to experience Chowfest – a Trinidadian and Tobagonian fruit festival on August 25, 2018 at the Eclectic Lounge & Restaurant, Etobicoke. Chow refers to a collision of fruits with exotic seasoning and spices, coming together in an explosion of colour and taste.
In this VIBE TALKS interview, Correspondent Nina Kalirai speaks with Roodney Clarke – Organizer, Chowfest and singer of the festival’s theme song, Savannah Taylor.
Nina: What is ‘Chow’?
Roodney: ‘Chow’ is commonly said, but it means many things. In Trinidad, when we speak of Chow, we mean a fruit dish, commonly infused with mango. But whatever fruit it’s infused with at the time, is the fruit of the day. Chow can be any fruit dish that is seasoned in a specific way, and in Trinidad we call it Chow. There’s nothing other than the taste that defines it as Chow, as we know it.
Nina: What is Chowfest?
Roodney: Chow Fest is a combination of restaurants and the public coming together to celebrate Chow and to get the wider audience to know what Chow is. Chowfest introduces chow to the wider Canadian audience. It is very, very tasty, very healthy and very competitive.
Nina: What is the significance of Chowfest?
Roodney: It started as an idea to bring business to Caribbean bars and restaurants and it sort of took off from there. We include all the restaurants. We don’t really have a festival for the Caribbean bars and restaurants. If you’re lucky enough to be in a marked area where they have those festivals, that’s good for you. But most of us are in a plaza, where there is no Starbucks. So we wanted to do something where we could celebrate the food that we have, and get the audience to come to us. We wanted to expose ourselves to a wider audience who will buy our food. The Caribbean is very diverse. English speaking, French speaking, Spanish speaking, it’s huge. So we want to include the whole Caribbean, eventually, but right now, we’re just starting with Brampton.
Nina: How many years has Chowfest been running?
Roodney: Well, it officially began in 2016, but we were all doing it before. A big group of us would get together in a backyard, and bring out chow and unofficially compete. Then we moved to a bar in 2016, and then it just kept getting bigger.
Nina: You and your wife, Suzette, are the owners of Chowfest here in Toronto. How exactly did you bring Chowfest to Toronto?
Roodney: Well, we brought it to Toronto because the neutrality of the place. We wanted the bars and restaurants in Brampton to send their dishes down there. So it’s judged in Etobicoke and as we rolled it out to different areas we tried to find neutral places for competitors to send their dish down there.
Nina: Savannah, you’ve made a song called “Chow and Whine” for the festival. Tell me a little bit about what inspired you to do so?
Savannah: I’m a singer, songwriter and a performing artist outside of Chowfest, in my day-to-day life. My dad writes music and screenplays. So when it was time for Chowfest, and we were trying to think of a cool way to talk about chow and incorporate music and culture, we decided to collaborate and make the song. The song is actually written by my dad. He wrote it and he came up with the musical composition. Then, I, kind of put my own flair to it and went into the studio and just did my own thing with it. So it’s like a collaborative work between the two of us. That’s why it’s called like “Acos” because it’s my take on what I know growing up as a child of Soca, as opposed to someone who was born in Trinidad because I was born here. I grew up with Trinidad culture in my household and stuff, but you know, you grow up in Canada, you’re still Canadian. That’s where it came from. First, we were like we’re going to promote it just as an advertisement. Then we made a full song and we decided to keep it. So it was just a lot of going back and forth saying: “Ok, what’s sounding good right now?” And it just worked.
Nina: Would you guys say that “Chow and Whine” is the theme song for Chowfest?
Savannah: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s the theme song because it’s playful, but it also has its own connotations and its own undertones, but it’s also very literal. In terms of chow, when you make chow there’s a juice at the bottom of it cause of all the fruits and stuff, and that’s actually called wine. So in a literal sense, it is chow and wine, but then there’s different connotations to it. For now, this is definitely the theme song for Chowfest. It’s a summer tune, it’s just supposed to represent the coolness, the vibe, and the chillness of what we want to bring to Chowfest and what we see Chowfest as being with all types of people coming and just enjoying the lime.
© Acos | YouTube
Nina: What can attendees expect when they’re attending Chowfest?
Savannah: You can expect a lot of things. There’s a lot going on, and there’s definitely stuff for everybody. Essentially, we want Chowfest to be the cool down of the summer. A place where you come, you chill, you hang, bringing all types of communities together around this super cool idea of a chow competition. There’s going to be live music, and I’ll be performing “Chow and Whine”, but I’ll also be performing with my band. We have another band coming. We’re still open to other performers if they’re interested. We also have vendors of all kinds coming. We have people selling Trinidadian novelties, we’ve got preservatives, we have people selling bake and shark, we have popcorn, and we also have other types of food. It’s not just Trini food, we also have American food. We have people promoting their business. It’s just a way for us to find another spot for community members to come together and support each other, promote each other, celebrate with each other. There’s also music, we have a lineup of DJ’s - we have DJ Riyad coming, we have DJ D.O.C., DJ Lockdown. So it’s a whole day event of what you would expect to come and hang out. Then of course, there’s the final event of the Chow competition, which is super cool because if you have no idea what chow is, by the time you leave Chowfest you’ll definitely know. There’s opportunities for anyone who comes to try the chow for free, and you could judge. We’re having a people’s choice where audiences can actually judge what they think is the best chow. We have our judges, our expert panel judges, but then we have a People’s Choice. So there’s a lot going on, there’s a lot of fun. It’s for everyone, there’s not one type of person we’re looking for to come. We just want everybody to just come. All ages, families, everybody.
Nina: And you mentioned authentic Trinidadian vendors and what not. Who are the vendors that you have and where are they from?
Savannah: We’re still accepting applications for vendors. So far, we have a vendor that’s her own independent person and she’s selling Trinidadian preservatives, Kurma candies and small things like that. We have another person who is applying to talk about their businesses. There’s even a Jamaican food vendor. So we’re still very much accepting vendors. We’re not done yet.
Nina: Where can listeners go for more information on this year’s Chowfest event?
Savannah: We’re on Facebook. If you type in “Toronto ChowFest”, we have a Facebook page and we also have an event page called “Toronto ChowFest 2018.” If you’re not on Facebook, we also update our website. So those are the two places online you can check us out. We’ll be updating the Facebook page often, keeping everybody in the know, and reminding people about what’s happening and what’s going to go on. As we get more vendors, we will be introducing them on the Facebook page.