Saturday, March 19, 2011

Haute & Spicy : A Culinary Tour of the Caribbean

Haute & Spicy

A Culinary Tour of the Caribbean

Melanie Reffes

“Ever since I knew myself,” quips Donovan Thompson in his charming Patois or Jamaica-speak,” My Uncle Taric told me never to tell anyone how we make our jerk chicken.” Grilling over an open fire at Mickey’s Jerk Pit in Jamaica’s Boston Bay and zealously guarding the family secret, the Jerk Master who learned the art of jerk from his famous Uncle swears it’s the best on the island. “My jerk is more-ish,” he explains using a typical Jamaican expression with the flair of a philosopher, “after you eat it, you want more. “

High atop the coffee-famous Blue Mountains and down the road from the movie-famous Blue Lagoon, Port Antonio is the birthplace of jerk or the centuries-old art style of grilling meat slowly over a low fire. Driving east from Kingston, a piquant aroma fills the air as the Boston Jerk Centre with a dozen or so open-air huts comes into view. This is casual dining at its finest. No cutlery, no menus and no frills. As the song goes, there may be a cheeseburger or two in this paradise but jerk is, indeed, the national taste treasure.

Whether it’s Jamaican mouth-burning jerk, Grenada’s oil-down stew of breadfruit, spinach, coconut milk and salted meat or conch fritters from the Bahamas, Caribbean cuisine is a delectable mélange from faraway lands and long ago times.

With more than 7,000 islands making up the region, it’s no surprise its culinary history is peppered with international inspiration. Okra and plantains came with the West African slave trade. Columbus planted sugarcane and the Dutch, Danish, British and French introduced rice and coffee. Potatoes were donated from those arriving from South America and avocados and cocoa came from Mexico.

In Aruba and Curacao, an Indonesian ristafeel is popular with locals, pommes ce theure or green plums soaked in coriander brine are street treats in Trinidad and in Puerto Rico, asopao stew, similar to paella, is family-style traditional fare.

Table Matters

Running the kitchen with palate-pleasing perfection, Christopher Golding is the new Chef de Cuisine at Sugar Mill Restaurant at Half Moon on Jamaica’s northwest coast. Winning rave reviews, his saffron poached snapper with spur tree pine and pepper jelly is already a big hit with foodies. For a most romantic dinner, book a table under the centuries-old waterwheel. Visit

Through imposing carved Indonesian wooden doors, East in Antigua excels with an Asian-inspired menu from green curry to pumpkin udon noodles. “The raw ingredients are of the utmost importance” explains Chef Peter Fitz Dreyer, “we can have paw-paw, guava and mangoes on the plate within an hour”. Visit

In St. Kitts, duck confit and rack of lamb are the star attractions at the new La Belle Vie, a short stroll from the Marriott. Owner Michel Lerousseau delights both French food aficionados while also introducing tourists to the refined flavors of France. Visit

A Nibble and a Nosh

Next to the bridge at Simpson Bay in St. Maarten, barbecue is de rigueur at Bonita’s Cantina where owners Bryan and Bonny Tyrell cook it low and smoke it slow. “When the bridge goes up, “says Bonny Tyrell, co-owner, “we serve pork mini-sliders and margaritas to those waiting in their cars for the bridge to come back down.” Specials include the “Pig Out on Monday for a Tenner” (ribs, pulled pork and fries for $10.00). “Folks don’t have to take out a second mortgage to afford a really great meal here,” adds Bryan Tyrell, co-owner. Visit

Rated one of “America’s Best Burgers” by the Wall Street Journal, the ‘Presidente’ seared in beer is greasy goodness at the Hull Bay Hideaway in St. Thomas, USVI. West of Magen Bay and a few yards from the best surf break on the island, chili dogs and buffalo chicken are tops with the hardcore carnivores in the crowd. Visit

Sugar Rules

Desserts are the talk of the town at Oliver’s in the Spice Island Beach resort in Grenada where Head Chef, Jesson Church enchants with sinful masterpieces like his dark and white chocolate parfait. ”Jesson works tirelessly to ensure the highest culinary standards for our discerning guests,” said Sir Royston Hopkin, owner, “which is critical to our success as a fully-inclusive luxury resort.” For travel through April 15, an agent-specific “Escape to Grenada” package includes resort credits that can be used at Oliver’s. Contact the property - 473-444-4258 - or e-mail

On the tiny isle of Montserrat, a guava ice cream cone at Chico’s is a refreshing elixir for the soul. Those with a sweet tooth get their Chico fill at Ponts Beach View Restaurant and the Tropical Mansion Suites.

On the waterfront at Vigie Marina in St. Lucia, Coal Pot is the local favorite for sinful sweets created with flair by Chef Xavier. For dessert, a wedge of pineapple cheesecake (two forks, please) is a must-try. Visit

Bottoms Up

Move over, piña colada. These days, the top cocktail in Puerto Rico is the chichaíto (cheeh-chah-ee-toh), an after-dinner fusion of Palo Viejo rum and anise liqueur that is blended in twenty-five flavors from chocolate and ginger to lemon and coffee. Served in one-dollar shot glasses, the trendy brew is poured at Los 3 Cuernos bar in Old San Juan's Plaza de Colón.

Healthy yet potent, the beet mojito at the Cabana Bar & Grille in Turks & Caicos goes wonderfully well with a platter of perfectly fried conch fritters. Along Grace Bay revered for its white talc sand and cerulean waves, the sea view patio is all the rage with islanders who never tire of watching the sun set into the horizon. Visit

In St. John, USVI, The Beach Bar along a sandy stretch of Cruz Bay is a magnet for seriously famous megastars like Keith Urban and Kid Rock and a band of regulars who belly up to the bar for Sunday Jazz and Happy Hour. Visit

Reservations Required

April 10 – 16 - St. Croix Food & Wine Experience will celebrate its 11th year with gourmet dinners, celebrity chefs and wine tastings. Visit

April 21 – 25 –Oistens Festival in Barbados for the best in fresh fish with sides of macaroni pie and plenty of Banks beer. Visit

Beet Mojito Recipe
Courtesy: Cabana Bar in Turks & Caicos
1 lime, cut into 6 wedges
A few sprigs mint
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon beet purees (boil beets until soft and puree in a blender until smooth)
1-1/2 ounces rum
Garnish - fresh mint, lime wedge and sugar cane stick
In a tall tumbler, muddle 5 lime wedges with mint and sugar until crushed and juicy. Fill glass with ice. Add rum and beet puree. Stir well. Fill remaining glass with Sprite and stir. Garnish with lime, sprig of mint and a stick of sugar cane.

Posh Spice

Grown in an attractive array of bright yellows, oranges and reds, the Scotch bonnet was the first Caribbean hot pepper to be known by a specific name in the export market.

Among the most intense of all, a scotch bonnet rates between150, 000 and 3000,000 on the Scoville chart – the industry standard for measuring a pepper’s punch named after its creator, American chemist Wilbur Scoville. A Bell peppers rate a zero and pure capsaicin registers a blistering 16 million.
- To reduce the heat, remove the seeds and the white ribs in the middle
- If a pepper is burning you up, eat something sugary or fatty because the oil-based capsaicin will dissolve in these substances. A cold beer or margarita will make matters worse.
- Fire extinguisher of choice is a dollop of Greek yogurt which is thicker than other varieties.
- Remember, you can always add more but you can never take it away.

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