International chefs Chris De La Rosa from Canada, Jean-Georges Vongerichten from the United States of America and Tom Aikens from Britain were invited to partake in the Barbados Food and Rum Festival’s “Gourmet Safari”, a three-part dinner series set at the island’s finest restaurants: The Crane, The Cliff Restaurant and The Tides. This year, our very own Trinidadian-born and Hamilton-raised Chef Chris De La Rosa (you know, the guy behind CaribbeanPot.com) hosted the pop-up dinner at The Crane’s L’Azure on Saturday, November 18, accompanied by the resort’s executive chef Duayne Holligan. But, this wasn’t his first rodeo. De La Rosa served up his best for guests of the festival last year, receiving many “oohs” and “ahhs”; 2017 was no different.
The Crane Resort is perched on a cliff in Saint Philip, on the southeastern tip of Barbados. When we arrived at the hotel, we walked through an old village with cobblestone streets until we reached a dead end by a pool sitting on the edge of the mountain. The restaurant overlooked the Atlantic Ocean, which sparkled like a million diamonds from the smallest slither of the moon. Wind gently stirred through the crowd while the sound of waves crashing below set the tone for the night.
During the cocktail hour, guests that arrived early were greeted with small bites like crispy pork and breadfruit dumplings and conch fritters, as well as chilli and tamarind rum cocktails.
The candle-lit dining room opened for seating at 8 o’clock. The meal consisted of five courses: a soup, appetizer, amuse bouche (palate cleanser), entrée and dessert.
It all started with a curried lobster bisque. The lobster was ground and mashed into a soft, round cake that floated to the top of the soup. The base mostly consisted of tomato, but a touch of coconut milk worked wonders by making it silky smooth. The most impressive part of the dish was the chickpea dumplings that sank to the bottom of the bowl like an anchor. They were dense and perfectly chewy, tasting all too familiar to doubles.
Next up was rum-infused local octopus (what the Bajans call “seacat”) tossed with ribbons of cucumber in a light vinaigrette. That was served alongside fried kale chips, a generous swipe of avocado-ginger sauce and smoked paprika aioli. This was a personal favorite for its balance of flavour profiles. The smoked paprika aioli lent plenty spice, but the avocado sauce cooled your mouth down almost instantly.
Soursop sorbet was served to remove any lingering flavors from the mouth, so that the entrée could be enjoyed with a fresh perspective. That’s what a palate cleanser is, after all: a bite-sized portion of food served between meals to clear your tastebuds for what’s next. (Think of it like a reset button for your tongue!) Sorbet in the Caribbean is usually made with whatever fruit is in season. Throughout the year, you can find mango, pineapple, watermelon, avocado, and even sorrel.
The entrée was arranged like a sampling platter, consisting of three main meals: “Curry Goat with Dhalpuri”, “Creole Red Snapper with Coconut Milk Rice and Steamed Callaloo” and “5timuli Island Chicken with Parmesan Breadfruit and a Dark-Aged Rum Tarragon Sauce.” Out of all, the curry stole my heart. Let’s just say you can take a man out of Trini, but you can’t take the Trini out of the man. Succulent pieces of goat simmered in a fiery sauce that was so deliciously spicy it burned the back of your throat in all the right ways. It had a delightfully sweet touch—tamarind maybe? At the bottom of the ramekin, there was a pile of fresh and earthy wilted spinach that still had a little crunch to it. Wrapped up in a handful of roti skin, it was truly perfection.
Dessert offered a large variety of flavours, also made up of three parts: “Cassava and Coconut Cheesecake with Bayleaf Ice Cream”, “Spiced Rum & Bajan Cherries Sorbet” and “Hot Conkies with Nutmeg Ice Cream”. Conkies are traditional Bajan delicacies made in November to celebrate Independence Day. It’s similar to Trinidadian pastelles as it’s steamed in banana leaves and has a flavourful base of cornmeal. Other ingredients included coconut, sweet potato and pumpkin. The conkie was soft and sweet, but I challenged my table to choose a favourite and we all decided that the sophisticated bay leaf ice cream was the best.
In the Caribbean, we’re so used to throwing bay leaves into stews, soups and sauces but we hardly ever use the herb to make ice cream—that was a first for many of us. The bay leaves lent an almost minty taste while staying woodsy and warm. It didn’t even have to try hard to impress us. It just found its natural fit.
Chefs Chris Chris De La Rosa and Duayne Holligan ended the night on a good note, hopping around the dining room and thanking each and every guest for coming out. From there, diners returned to the resort’s cobblestone streets to enjoy their final stop of the night: the resort’s Bar 1887. Everyone danced the night (and the calories) away while swooning over delectable rum cocktails.