Celebrating Women as Nourishers

woman with a tray of food

Fête des Cuisinières - Point-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, French West Indies

Click here to listen to Paola talk about this festival

This is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.

For 87 years, the Festival of the Cooks has been celebrated on the Island of Guadeloupe in the French West Indies where women master cooks own most of the 200 restaurants. The word cuisinière means a woman cook in French. But these women are special: The Cuisinières are considered national treasures.

In 1916, their mothers and grandmothers, cooks of modest means, banded together to form Cuistot Mutuel, an insurance association, to provide the medical care and funerals that they could not afford. The cooks prepared meals when member were sick, helped each other through family emergencies, and arranged dignified funeral services.

After having shared these difficulties, the women cooks yearned to see each other on a more joyful occasion. So they created one: the annual Fête des Cuisinières. They chose as their patron, Saint Laurent because he was, in their words, “grillé at the stake.”


In 1917 ten cooks first dressed in sumptuous costumes, attended a private mass for Saint Laurent, then paraded through the streets of the capital, Point-à-Pitre, carrying their best dishes, which they served at a great public feast. The tradition continues today. Cuistot Mutuel members' ages range from 14 to 104; newly, ten men have joined.

Guadeloupeans eat more fish than the Japanese. From dish to dish, many ingredients are the same, but the spices and preparation provide variety. The cuisine of St. Barts and St. Martins is more French but Guadeloupean Creole recipes are indigenous, transmitted by oral tradition.

Six hundred people can enjoy the five-hour festival feast for $20 (tickets sell out almost immediately). Islands Magazines decreed that Guadeloupe’s women cooks serve “what is widely regarded as the best Creole cuisine in the Caribbean.”

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