Cuba's private eateries to compete in culinary festival

File photo: US singer Beyonce leaves the Saratoga Hotel in Havana, on April 5, 2013. Pop diva Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay-Z on Thursday created a stir as they toured the streets of Old Havana, with hundreds of Cubans turning out to catch a glimpse of the US power couple.

HAVANA - Cuba's privately-owned restaurants, the "paladares" that have proliferated under President Raul Castro's economic reforms, will take part for the first time in Cuba's biggest culinary festival.

The Varadero Gourmet Festival, to be held from June 19-21 in a spa 85 miles (140 kilometers) east of Havana, "seeks to position Cuba as a destination for quality food service,' organizer Hugo Capote told AFP Friday.

Allowing privately-run eateries to compete against the Communist nation's state-run restaurants "will enrich the Cuban tourist product," he said.

"In the end, we are talking about a single product: the Cuban, and part of its authenticity is in this new form of production and management," said Capote, also chief of operations at the state-run Palmares restaurants.

Since the private sector expansion was first authorized, hundreds of private restaurants have sprouted in Havana and elsewhere on the island, some of which, including "La Guarida" and "La Cocina de Lilian" have gained international prestige.

Capote did not specify how many of the private restaurants would participate in the festival, which will feature two food-based competitions - Cuban gourmet and fusion cuisine - and one for cocktails.

For the cooking contests, each participate must submit a full menu plus "pairings," including coffee, liquors, cigars and chocolate.

Exhibitors from more than a dozen countries, including Colombia, Spain, the United States, France, Mexico and Cuba will also participate in the festival.

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