In the first of our series on must-visit foodie destinations, we take a trip to the Caribbean island of St Lucia and discover the unique cuisine of this tropical paradise
22 MARCH 2011
Mention the Caribbean and it instantly conjures up images of jerk chicken, jerk pork, rice and peas, candied yams – you get the picture.
These are all, as it happens, Jamaican dishes that have spread throughout the Caribbean – but many of the islands, like St Lucia, have their own dishes, their own spicing and their own culinary styles.
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Championing the cause of St Lucian food is chef Orlando Satchell. Executive chef at Dasheene (pictured above), located at the Ladera resort, he is revitalising island food, preparing fresh delicious dishes with local ingredients and a creative flair that both the locals and holidaymakers flock for.
He runs tours of the local markets where islanders sell the produce they grow on their own land; he uses the fruit, vegetables and fish in the cookery classes he runs at Ladeera.
Like most islanders, he’s buzzy, fun and welcoming – there’s an attitude that people seem to have here that’s happy-go-lucky – maybe it’s all the sunshine.
One must-have at the market – a fresh coconut. Drunk too much rum the night before? That sore head will be gone like a shot. The other noteworthy thing to pick up at the market are the spices – they’re locally grown, pungent, punchy and fresh – crack a piece of the cinnamon bark (pictured bvelow), close your eyes and inhale.
St Lucia is also home to a number of cocoa plantations. Lots of the big name corporations buy their beans from here. Seeing the process from fruit on the tree to dried beans ready to be packed and turned into chocolate bars is an experience – and a tasty one too.
The fresh cocoa beans (below) taste something like a mangosteen, that tangy, fruity cross between passion fruit and mango, while the dried beans are intense, savoury and chocolatey.
Local delicacies at the fish-fry
The fish-fry is the island’s big outdoor cookout that happens every Friday night (located in the town of Anse-la-Raye), and is an ideal chance to sample a load of the local food.
Delicacies on offer include stuffed crab backs, mussels, grilled snapper, lobster, kingfish, deep fried Johnny cakes – all washed down with beer or homebrew spiced rum (deadly!) while people dance to soca, reggae and dancehall music filling the air.
Locals and tourists mingle at trestle tables right by the water – and if you fancy something a bit different, you’ll find a few other food stops around the local streets – including some killer fried chicken.
High end dining
The island has no shortage of high end dining options set in out-of-this-world locations; spectacular views about both on plate and out across the ocean. First stop on your itinerary should be The Cliff at Cap Maison located on the northern tip of the island.
An entirely outdoor restaurant, tables are serenaded with the sounds of the waves melodically hitting the rocks below.
The food is modern and interesting, showcasing island cuisine and ingredients merged with modern techniques and novel ideas – expect to be wowed by presentation. Their wine list is incredible, too.
A celeb haunt like no other
Even if you don’t get to dine there, Jade Mountain is well worth visiting just to have a nose around. A celebrity haunt like none other (although they don’t name names), this is like walking onto the set of some spectacular Bond movie.
The second part of the Anse Chastanet hotel, the construction is an architect’s dream. Rooms are entirely open – and open to the elements along one wall. Infinity pools line another wall of each room looking out across St Lucia’s famous Peytons.
As it happens, the food matches the rooms – simple, luxurious and delicious, coupling local ingredients with European cooking techniques.
Lots of their produce is grown on their own organic farm while fish is generally order of the day – ceviches, tiraditos and seared scallops are all firm favourites. Wines, meanwhile, are expertly matched by the in-house sommelier.
Great cocktails in elegant surroundings
As a base, Jalousie Plantation has it all. Beautiful private villas with their own pools and incredible views are order of the day, while the chef at the resort uses his Mexican heritage to great effect in the food at the different restaurants.
The Cane Bar is the spot to start your evening – great cocktails in elegant surroundings coupled with that warm, tropical evening breeze that’s like nothing else.
You’ll probably have had your breakfast and lunch on or by the beach – fresh, light and interesting.
The island’s local fish are ideal for ceviche, the south American cooking technique using citrus to cure fish; kingfish, snapper, mahi-mahi to name a few are all firm fleshed and perfect for eating like this, or indeed grilling with loads of spice.
Dinner at Jalousie is another affair altogether – you’ll find yourself in a beautiful colonial-style building (on the veranda if you get lucky) – the Great Room.
You can savour a well-crafted and perfectly portioned tasting menu or go a la carte with dishes like Mahi-Mahi with green fig mash and tropical salsa - a real taste of the island.
St Lucia is somewhere very much in touch with its produce, its own cuisine and has its own culinary identity. The new generation of chefs are learning from the classic island dishes and twisting them, teasing them gently in modernity, with a subtlety that wasn’t there before.