Cookout contests lay foundation for hosting UN gastronomy showcase Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Barbara Rwodzi (right) chats with Wadzanai Chikwanda, an exhibitor, flanked by her Deputy Tongai Mnangagwa (fourth from right), Minister of State for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Harare Metropolitan Province Charles Tavengwa (fourth from right) and Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development Permanent Secretary Professor Fanuel Tagwira, (third from right) during a tour of exhibition stands at Harare province Amai’s Cook Out Competition at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare yesterday.

Rumbidzayi Zinyuke-Senior Reporter

Zimbabwe is now geared to host the first-ever United Nations Tourism Africa gastronomy showcase following the resounding success of the Amai’s Traditional Cookout Competitions.

The prestigious event, to be held from July 26 to 28, will see culinary talents from across the continent converge in Victoria Falls, showcasing the vast and vibrant African cuisine.

The cookout programme is a concept introduced by First Lady Dr Auxillia Mnangagwa in 2019. Since then, the Ministry of Tourism and Hospitality Industry has been tasked to coordinate the implementation of the programme together with provinces and other line ministries.

Speaking at the Harare Provincial Cookout competition held at the University of Zimbabwe yesterday, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Minister Barbara Rwodzi said the cookout had displayed the depth and diversity of Zimbabwean cuisine, with dishes produced highlighting local ingredients and traditional cooking methods.

“Tourism, as you may be aware, has evolved beyond mere holidaying and recreation. It has become an avenue for exploration, connection, and personal growth,” she said. 

“In this journey of discovery, gastronomy plays a pivotal role as a gateway for understanding a destination’s culture and heritage. 

“Culinary experiences have become a driving force in travel decisions, as food enthusiasts seek authentic and immersive opportunities to taste the flavours of the world. As such, tourists are increasingly seeking for destinations that offer a culinary journey alongside traditional sightseeing.” Minister Rwodzi said many developed countries relied on gastronomy as a major driver of their economies, hence Zimbabwe could also leverage on this and become the gastronomy powerhouse in Africa.

According to UN Tourism (2023) statistics, tourism revenue generated US$1,4 trillion globally whilst spending on food-related activities is estimated to account for 40 percent of the global tourism expenditure.

To this end, Minister Rwodzi said her ministry had infused gastronomy into one of the clusters identified to promote and develop tourism as espoused in the Tourism Act, which is the Culture and Heritage cluster.

“Gastronomy tourism also empowers communities by fostering cultural preservation and pride. The culinary traditions passed through generations are a vital part of a community’s heritage. It provides an avenue to showcase and preserve our values and norms, instilling a sense of pride and drawing communities closer to the roots. 

“This recognition and appreciation of cultural heritage not only empowers individuals to take ownership of their traditions but also fosters inter-generational knowledge transfer for the benefit of future generations. 

“In addition, gastronomy tourism promotes social empowerment and inclusivity within communities. It provides an opportunity for locals to engage with visitors, exchange ideas, and share their stories,” said Minister Rwodzi.

She said when local communities actively participated in the development and management of gastronomy tourism initiatives, they earned a sense of ownership and influence over their future for economic gains.

This year’s traditional cookout competitions have contestants competing in three different categories including the students in tourism or culinary programmes, professional chefs and community categories.

Yesterday’s event was for the community chefs and today, a competition for students and professional chefs will be held.

South Korean fellowship group members taste some of the traditional food yesterday. Pictures: Memory Mangombe.

Permanent Secretary for Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Dr Mavis Sibanda, who was represented by chief director Engineer Francis Ngondo, said the First Lady’s initiatives were instrumental in changing the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans.

“I am happy that we have taken on board male counterparts to take part in this life changing programme. 

“We are moving together in the spirit of leaving no one and no place behind as we grow our economy as a nation and this is commendable. 

“Let us take the opportunity to leverage on our abundant resources to venture into traditional food production,” she said.

Harare Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Charles Tawengwa, said participants at yesterday’s event were drawn from all four local authorities within the province. 

“We are gathered here to witness the fruits of inclusive governance and socio economic development in capacitating our youths, men and women through gastronomy tourism. 

“Our women, through Dr Mnangagwa, have been accorded an opportunity to see gastronomy tourism in action,” he said.

He expressed hope that the men, women and youths, were encouraged to preserve this major element of our tangible heritage.

Ms Runashe Chingwaru from Epworth, expressed joy at winning the competitions.

“I was not expecting this but I am happy that the hard work that I put in has paid off. I have always loved cooking so I thought I should just try for this competition to see where it got me. 

“After this win, I will continue to seek traditional foods and recipes as I prepare for the national competition and even the African gastronomy competitions. I am preparing to win them all,” she said.

Ms Dorothy Murasiranwa, who was the first runner up said the traditional food competitions had helped them appreciate local cuisine as young people.

“I never thought I would be interested in such programmes but after undergoing training, I was eager to research about our traditional foods that have health benefits. This programme pushed me to my limits and I am happy that I managed to succeed,” she said.

The only male competitor, Mr Tinashe Chigodora, also from Epworth was crowned the second runner up.

“I am thankful to the local board for encouraging me to participate in this competition. This has helped me to improve my skills and my confidence. 

“This competition has really changed my life and even if I decide to start my own culinary business, I can use the knowledge that I gained here. I want to also thank the First Lady for encouraging us to take such opportunities,” he said.

The winner and first runner up will represent Harare Province at the national competitions in Manicaland in May.

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