The cooks arrive for mass and the blessing of their food
A day to experience the heart and soul of Creole traditions
On August 10th every year, the focus is on the women of Guadeloupe as they celebrate the wonderful history of their country. Food lovers will remember the delicious food above all else. The local specialities will really make your mouth water. The wonderful scents fill the streets and certainly whet your appetite.
The Cooks of Guadeloupe Association
The festival of cooks is more than just a party
The spirit of community at the heart of this movement is passed down from generation to generation. Between the ages of 14 and 97, more than 200 cooks, members of the association, celebrate their islander identity with pride by showing off their extravagant costumes and elegant headdresses.
This tradition began on July 14th 1916, as a demonstration of solidarity. More than a century on, it’s still going strong.
In early 1900, a housekeeper lost her husband and barely scraped together enough money to give him a decent burial. Moved by the widow’s story, 5 women decided to come to her aid. The fundraiser organized along with the owners of the house was a great success. This quickly became the foundation of a tontine (a sort of crowdfunding scheme) known as “Le Cuistot Mutuel” (Insurance for the Cooks). The first insurance scheme in Guadeloupe was born. It meant that those covered were guaranteed a decent burial when they died. “The Cooks” have carried on this tradition ever since. They volunteer their talents for funeral ceremonies.
A Cooks’ Mass in Pointe à Pitre
True Guardians of Local Heritage
These strong-willed women have developed their association such that it has become a pillar of culinary tradition and traditional dress in Guadeloupe. Much like true guardians of local heritage, on festival days they wear their traditional costumes with style, proudly showing off their aprons embroidered with the symbol of their patron saint: Saint Laurent.
Are we to understand that the cooks chose this particular patron saint as a bit of a joke?
Father Lawrence of Rome was condemned to die, roasted in a sort of oven. He refused to hand over the church’s treasures to the Prefect of Rome, for the Emperor’s troops. Legend says that these were the last words he said as he burned:
“I’m well done on this side, turn me over and feast.”
… This earned him his rise to Patron Saint of cooks…and master roasters!
A portrait of remarkable women: the Cooks of Guadeloupe
The procession: a time for joy and community
After the mass, the cooks then gather in front of the Cathedral for a celebration with colorful madras dresses and headdresses. They get in line for the parade, armed with authentic Creole dishes, fruit and vegetable baskets and kitchen utensils. The president and deputies ring their bells to signal the start of the parade . The bells announce their arrival at every intersection, and they hand out their blessed food along the way. This merry procession crosses through the town accompanied by singing and the sounds of the Gwo Ka during this great moment of community spirit, with delicious cakes!
The President’s bell
The parade of the cooks after the mass
The future chefs of the Cook’s Association
Then, it’s time for a picnic. The greatest chefs lay out their special dishes for tasting (a fee is required to participate). A delicious way to experience local Creole specialities! The festival continues well into the night with a ball.