Monday, 29 October 2007

What I Loved About Nevis

Charlestown, Nevis. June 2007

Being born a West Indian means that I am less likely to sucuumb to the palm trees, blue sea, white sand, standard tourist pitch. The Caribbean islands are so much more complicated than the tidy packages presented by clever marketing. Nevis and St Kitts caught my attention with their startling topography (both islands live with central mountain peaks as dominant features), but also I was captivated by the tangible air of history that lends both islands a sense of depth that is the bounty of most diehard travellers.
Some of my favourite places.

Montpelier Estate has a rich and colourful history. It is where Admiral Horatio Nelson married the widow Fanny Nisbet. When Lady Di visited in 1992, she stayed at one of the simple cottages with the boys and would have enjoyed the splendid view of the broody mountain as well as the lovely afternoon breezes. The cut stone windmill is still one of the most striking features on the property, dating back to 1794. It is now run by the charming Hoffman family and their two gorgeous labradors, Calypso and Rudder.

This is the restored Bath Hotel which has the distinction of being the first spa in the West Indies. In its prime, it was a literal hot spot for visiting gentry. Guests that visited include Admiral Horatio Nelson and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The hot springs that bubbled out of the ground were the main attraction and they were thought to have tremendous restorative powers. When I visited in June, it was hard to imagine the buzz and excitement that must have once filled this grey cut stone building that now has the mundane duty of housing government officials.

Montravers estate would have been decadent even in its time. It is in ruins now but was one of the grandest estates of the region in the 18th century. When we visited on a hot,still June afternoon, we were initially confused when we saw the sign below.
Was this the great house? No, apparently this was the "cottage" that sat below the great Baobob tree. Further inland and in through the remains of a cut stone gateway, we came upon the real thing. This time there was no mistake because there are not many three storey ruins knocking around the countryside. Walking around the space was eerie with many of the walls still standing, but it was hard to get a proper perspective. In its day, it was said to have a sweeping staircase that could accomodate the hooped skirts of three ladies walking abreast. This is also where three camels were imported and housed.

There are a LOT of historic churches in Nevis (and St. Kitts). If you are a history buff and love cemetery reading, this is the island to visit. On a visit to the local potters, Newcastle Pottery, potters Almena and Dan were hard at work and this scene caught my eye.
I did not get a chance to visit St James Windward Church, which is best known for its black crucifix, one of three in the Caribbean. I did stop by the St Thomas's Lowland Church which is striking on the bluff overlooking the Western coast of Nevis with St Kitts in the distance.

St Thomas's Lowland Church was first built in 1643 and has tombstones dating back to the mid 1600s.
I fell in love with this loom. Could it be that I have never seen a loom before? That may explain some of the charm.
We use the coalpot quite frequently in Trinidad but I had never seen it used with a clay pot. Of course, it makes perfect sense but I still wonder if the food will stick. It seems to be perfect for a "big soup" or "sancoche" as we say here.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Sunshines Bar and Grill in Nevis

Lovely chicken lunch at Sunshines . The chicken was breast and BBQ breast can sometimes be very tough but this was tasty and tender. I especially like the use of the seasoning pepper for an accent. It provides both colour and flavour. Interestingly, there was very little chadon beni (our strong coriander like seasoning) on the island. For a dish like this, that flavour would be too strong but coriander is perfect.You can probably see that the chicken was basted at the last moment with the BBQ sauce and not put on the grill with it coated already. Although I know this inside out, I still persist, convinced that I know better. And inevitably have some blackened pieces. It is a feat to achieve colour, tenderness and flavour with BBQ chicken breast. It is probably one of the more difficult things to get absolutely perfect.

The rice was perfect and not gummy. I'm not sure what the stock base was, but would bet that there was some pumpkin in there.
I am cheating here as this shot was actually taken in June and not on this trip. This time around there was no sign of these breezy, funky curtains. I was so disappointed because I really like them.
Sunshines Bar at sundown.


I must say something about this fabulous event. It was only started three years ago so is still very small, intimate and exclusive. There is something about Nevis that conveys both extreme sophistication and a down home, old time, summer holiday, kind of feeling.
The photos are from the Saturday evening event which was billed as "Taste of Nevis" by "Chef's of Nevis".

The team was led by Nevisian Curtis Smithen who has been named Executive Chef at the Four Seasons Resort Great Exuma at Emerald Bay in the Bahamas. Curtis was specially invited to come and do his magic on home turf.

Curtis is such a sweetheart that it's easy to get liming and forget that he is one of the eminent chefs of the region. He is everything that I think characterizes an excellent Caribbean chef and it's wonderful to see the region producing such talent.

Chef Bruno Correa is the new culinary head at the Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. This Swiss native is best known for his hands on approach and his sense of humour. His move from the Far East, where he was the Executive Sous Chef at Four Seasons Hotel, Hong Kong, brings an interesting edge to both the region and the cuisine.
Sunshine and Augusto Schreiner. A whole lot of talent in this snapshot.
Sunshine is famous throughout the world for his hip and funky beach bar. Much has been written about his charismatic style and I was fortunate to experience some of this famous Sunshine warmth first hand. A Trini is about as inconspicuous as a large elephant in Nevis. Everywhere I went, as soon as I opened my mouth, everyone (well almost everyone) said "TRINI!". When Sunshine heard my accent, he welcomed me warmly and then climbed up to show me where the Trinidad and Tobago flag was hanging with several other international ones. I was really touched! A nice man. And he serves a mean Killer Bee (goes down like a lamb, then kicks you like a mule!). Don't be deceived by its innocent taste, it packs a good wallop.
Augusto Schreiner is the consultant chef on the NICHE project and is instrumental in planning and developing this novel event. He works closely with the Nevis Tourist Authority and the tireless, charming, and always, always; gracious Helen Kidd. and his input can be seen at so many levels. He is charming and was often my seat companion on the way to various events. Always willing to chat, always down to earth and smiling. He is another one that it is easy to forget that you are in the midst of a true culinary star. I admit that I am a bit of a food groupie so great chefs do to me what Brittney Spears does to my 10 year old.
Augusto has had a distinguished career that includes numerous awards (he was awarded honorary citizenship by New Orleans after receiving top honours in a culinary competition held in this very foodie city). He owned and operated his acclaimed restaurant "Augusto's Cuisine" for several years before selling it in 2001. He now owns and teaches at his cooking school in Puerto Rico, The Art of Cooking School.

In addition to Moet& Chandon champagne, there were also several other wines available.Chef Abdue Hill from Sunset Beach Club says it all; come, come! You must come to this event next year. So I bid on the silent auction for the 2008 NICHE package. This auction is a new concept and is the brain child of the Nevis Tourist Authority. The proceeds will go towards a culinary scholarship that will enable a young Nevisian to further his culinary education.

Can't post without saying hi to limer-boy Hans. It was so nice to see the St Kitts contingent. Everyone was all dressed up and sparkling and while the food was GREAT, so was the lime.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

My Niche Weekend

I had such an amazing time in Nevis that I wanted to show it off a bit.
This is the lobby of the fabulous Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. I was very lucky to stay there over the weekend and had a chance to experience some good old fashioned style and glamour. Most people got dressed up in the evening and there was that contained air of elegance that hangs over special Friday nights.The view of the water from the main lobby. And no, this is not photoshopped.

The grand entrance where the doormen never failed to welcome or call out a cheerful greeting. There is more to service than meets the eye and all the staff were always impeccable. An example of the Caribbean architectural vernacular with its characteristic fretwork, large verandah and cross-bar railing.
One of the villas that is nestled under the canopy of the saman tree. These villas are privately owned but are part of the Four Seasons Development and can sometimes be found in the rental pool.
This one is situated right on one of the best greens in the Caribbean. It may even be the best one, but I will have to check my facts.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

NICHE - Nevis

I've had a one of those very special weekends where you meet new people, see new places and awaken interests that have fallen by the way. I was fortunate enough to be able to join a press trip to experience the third annual Nevis International Culinary Heritage Exposition 2007 or NICHE as it is known.Last night was the big night at The Four Seasons Resort in Nevis. The event, "Taste of Nevis" by the "Chefs of Nevis" showcased chefs from hotels and restaurants all set up at tasting stations. Most of the cuisine was branded as Caribbean with an international flair and the variety was amazing. It was also a great lime as a St kitts contingent arrived and I was able to hook up with my St. Kitts limer boy, Hans.

Chef Curtis Smithen, Executive Chef of the Four Seasons Resort, Exuma was there visiting his home turf and leading the Nevis Four Seasons team. His risotto was beyond fabulous. Beyond, beyond!! And he is such an amazing man. Cool and calm and so typically, well, Nevisian. The more I get to know this little island is the more that I love it and the people.
An interesting arrangement of food and flowers. It's easy with this type of arrangement to get clumsy but these were executed to perfection with the addition of passionfruit and miniature pineapples.
On the day before we visited The Nevis Craft House which does weaving, loomwork and both restoration and woodwork.

The loom ar work. There has been a rsurgence of the cotton crop here as the cotton grown on Nevis is recognized as some of the finest in the world. Exported mainly to the Far East, it is known as Sea Island Cotton.
Some of the chairs made on the property.A potter hard at work.
A minute replica of an old building that was brought down a few years ago. The Nevisians with us confirmed that this piece is an exact replica of the building.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

The Underwater Garden

I was lucky to see some of the underwater life that has made the Florida Keys famous. These are not the photos from my snorkelling session. Rather these are the shots that I was able to get pressed up against the side of the aquarium in the large display room.
These other wordly scapes were just what I was in the mood to contemplate. It's been a bit of a nightmare month but I was able to recharge in the Keys. That these wonderful creatures spend all day gently waving their tentacles is a great comfort to me. Why?
Something on a cellular level, I'm sure. Some sort of limbic throwback.
I read that in Japan there is a hugely popular trend where highly stressed corporate king (or queen) pins pay over-the-top ridiculous prices to spend a night looking at jellyfish float in large aquariums.
The sessions are pre-booked months in advance and come with a complimentary blanket and pillow (well maybe I'm improvising on that part). My point is that I never understood the appeal until I looked around my yoga class one night, everyone was upside down in shoulder stand and in the dim light we all looked like suspended, hushed entities; sort of jellyfish like, and deeply relaxed and relaxing.