KENSCOFF, Haiti (AP) — Two celebrity chefs from the U.S. got a cool reception in Haiti Tuesday as the mayor of a town outside the capital blocked them from trying to tour a farmers market.
Aaron Sanchez and John Besh had arrived in the Caribbean nation as guests from the aid group Oxfam America to help raise awareness about food issues. But Widjmy Clesca, the mayor of the mountain town of Kenscoff, stopped the chefs and the journalists accompanying them from entering.
The mayor said the photographers couldn’t enter the market because they might take photos that would be unflattering for the town. People at the market shut the metal gate at the entrance, and one man waved his hand for Associated Press journalists to stop filming as they tried to interview Besh.
The chefs opted to leave and went with their hosts to visit a community organization that works with local farmers. But the mayor’s office called ahead and said that the visit hadn’t been approved, said Pierre Paul Jules, the coordinator of a group calling itself Solidarity for the Rural Development of Kenscoff.
“It’s unfortunate,” Sanchez told The Associated Press. “If Haiti wants to continue to grow, they have to let outsiders in a little bit.”
Added Sanchez: “It was a little intense, man.”
The two chefs arrived in Haiti on Sunday. They’ve toured one of the homeless settlements that sprung up in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake and met with farmers in the countryside and capital. Later Tuesday, they shared recipes with Haitian chefs and appeared on Haitian television.
They’re scheduled to leave the country Thursday.
Sanchez and Besh have both appeared on cooking programs in the U.S. — Sanchez, on the Food Network series “Chopped” and “Heat Seekers,” Besh as a finalist on the Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef.”
Hunger has been a perennial problem in Haiti, where today as many as 1.5 million of its 10 million people face malnutrition and other hunger-related problems, according to the government. Storms have destroyed crops in a desperately poor country where half of all its food is imported.