Sitting here in Soho looking out at the rain and surrounded by buzzy media types on their phones, tablets and what not, it is hard to believe that this time last week I was in the Caribbean and my biggest problem was being stalked by mosquitos. I love going away, but I also love coming home, and I don’t mind the rain. An Irish person with an issue with the rain, might as well have an issue with the sky, blades of grass, cows that moo, and anything else everyday and not extreme.
It rained in St Lucia too. Quite a bit. Lush misty rain that waters the cocoa trees, the giant rainforest, towering palms, gorgeous eclectic flowers, the vivid greenery, and the occasional boa constrictor (true). We drove along the coast and into the rainforest along windy steep roads dotted with small villages, seashores, luxury resorts and finally, our destination, a cocoa plantation. Rabot Estate is owned and run by Hotel Chocolat in the UK, but it is run entirely by St Lucian staff, and supports St Lucian cocoa farmers, producing a single estate cocoa for production in the UK (they are building a factory in St Lucia now too).
This is not the first time that I have visited a cocoa plantation (I previously visited Belmont Estate in Grenada, and also visited one in St Vincent), but I still love visiting. This, like Belmont Estate, is focussed on supporting the local cocoa growing community, and helping them grow. We made some chocolate from scratch, from the nib, cocoa butter and sugar, ground (im)patiently in a hot pestle and mortar until liquid smooth, and then set in a mould.
My cocoa adventures complete, we set off again to have lunch at Orlando’s. Set in the ground floor of his house, Orlando’s is a fantastic restaurant in tiny Soufriere, serving food prepared from only local ingredients, and with skill. Orlando is not actually from St Lucia. Born in Birmingham to parents from Barbados and Jamaica, he feels very passionately about great Caribbean food, and this is exactly what he serves.
I had a velvet smooth pumkin soup, yellowfin tuna that had been caught nearby and beautifully spiced and seasoned, before being served in a bake that was rolled flat and used to wrap it. Raw christophene and carrot gave texture in between, and great bright flavour. A terrific crumble for dessert betrayed Orlando’s UK origins. I wasn’t surprised to hear that Orlando had previously been invited to showcase Caribbean cuisine at James Beard House in Manhattan.
While I was eating lunch I saw a local rastafarian farmer arrive with a bag of oranges on his head, and a fist full of ginger freshly dug out of the ground. Orlando sources his ingredients from many local farmers like this, and small local fishermen too. He often doesn’t know what he will serve until he sees what is delivered each day. I wanted to see and I ran out to say hello and have a look at his produce. The ginger was so potent and zingy and the oranges wonderful too. The volcanic soil sprouts the most beautiful flavourful produce. When you taste the food, you really won’t mind the rain.
I finished the evening at the Rainforest Hideaway in Marigot Bay. A short boat ride brought me to a cosy bar, tucked behind was a restaurant. I cooked lionfish with the chef (more on that in another post), before settling in for my final meal of the evening. Regularly voted the Caribbean’s most romantic restaurant, set on a table overlooking the water and open to it, I could see why. The food was well prepared and had great flavours too.
After such a long day I didn’t have the space or energy for the local fish fry. We drove past many fish stalls interspersed with walls of speakers. This is where the party is at and next time I won’t miss it.
and in other news….
Next Tuesday, 11th February, I am cooking at the Dingley Dell Flying Visit, serving up bacon petit fours! Don’t miss it.
The following Sunday, 16th February, is the first Sunday Bacon Club of 2014. Details of this, and the next one on March 30th here.