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Great Food in the Caribbean?!

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It’s fair to say that food at Caribbean resorts usually ranks somewhere between Aeroflot and a high school hot lunch. After a blissful day on a sugar-white beach, mealtime is often your penance, a crummy reminder that not everything was better on the islands.

Why such crummy food?Three reasons:

• the bad ingredients, usually grown in Chile or Peru or some far-flung place, then condemned to weeks in a freighter, a customs storehouse, and a processing plant, until any resemblance to the original has disappeared;
• the exorbitant prices, a result of that import-based economy (which recalls that old joke: Not only is the food terrible, there’s not enough of it);
• the uninspired chefs, who, compelled to cover up rather than celebrate the food, try to distract us with oversauced European dishes or silly, overwrought fusion.

Rarely do you find honest, simple, local cooking. Just like the tomatoes, hotel chefs usually hail from distant corners of the world, so are unfamiliar with Caribbean techniques and ingredients. They might have cooked well in Melbourne or Dublin or Seattle but lose their footing when it comes to breadfruit and mutton and saltfish and callaloo.

Well, change is afoot. On recent trips to the Caribbean I’ve noticed better-quality ingredients (including more homegrown produce) and smarter decisions about what to do with them. Case in point: the Jade Mountain Club, the small, open-air restaurant at the clifftop Jade Mountain resort on St. Lucia.

Allen Susser, of Chef Allen’s restaurant in Aventura, FL, is the consulting chef. His team sources impeccably fresh fish and seafood, much of it from around the island. But the real secret weapon?Top-notch organic produce from Jade Mountain’s own nearby farm. Chalk it up to St. Lucia’s magical volcanic soil, but on a recent visit I sampled the most delicious baby carrots, spicy watermelon radishes, fragrant herbs, tender tat soy and mizuna…. even a ridiculously juicy beefsteak tomato bursting with flavor. When’s the last time you had a note-perfect salad in the Caribbean?

With only 14 tables, Jade Mountain Club is open to non-guests only by reservation. The knockout view of the verdant Pitons is reason enough to come, but you may be just as captivated by the sight of those microgreens. What about you—have you been pleasantly surprised by what you’ve eaten lately in the Caribbean?

Photo by Editor-at-Large Peter Lindberg

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