6 Chefs on What the Caribbean's Rich and Varied Cuisine Means to Them

Meet the people serving up stories of the region — and adding their own ideas to the mixing bowl.

A photo of spread of Caribbean bar snacks placed on a Caribbean Sea background
Caribbean bar snacks at Summerhouse, a restaurant in Ocho Rios, Jamaica, from Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau. Photo:

Ellen Silverman/Courtesy of Summerhouse. Background: Getty Images

The food of the Caribbean is as multilayered as the numerous cultures that have touched its waters. Recipes passed down through the generations by word of mouth, and flavors brought from West Africa, South Asia, and beyond speak of resilience with each bite.

Fruit chutneys, fiery pepper sauces, and the ubiquitous breadfruit are always worth traveling for — but to find out what’s really cooking today, we spoke to some standout chefs about their work and the places they proudly call home.

Adrian Forte

Pair of photos showing chef Adrian Forte and his okra slaw dish

From left: Courtesy of Appetite by Random House; John Molina/Courtesy of Appetite by Random House

Turks and Caicos

One of Adrian Forte’s favorite memories is a feast his Jamaican grandmother cooked for his ninth birthday: baked chicken, macaroni pie, and potato salad. The meal was so special that these large-format favorites are included in his new cookbook, "Yawd," alongside modern Afro-Caribbean recipes like oxtail gnocchi. “Caribbean food can be just as gourmet as any other cuisine,” says Forte, who grew up in Canada and is now based in Turks and Caicos. “My goal with 'Yawd' is to be the culinary conduit that brings people together.” Forte was a recent semifinalist on Top Chef Canada, and in the fall, he’ll open a French-Caribbean bistro on Providenciales called Emerald.

Julius Jackson

Chef Julius Jackson at work in a kitchen

Chaunte Samuel/Courtesy of Julius Jackson

U.S. Virgin Islands

As head chef and manager of MBW Café & Bakery, Julius Jackson provides mentorship and monetary support for My Brother’s Workshop: a nonprofit that offers culinary job training and placement for at-risk youth in St. Thomas. “In the Caribbean, we cook not just to fulfill ourselves, but also to take care of those around us and show that we care through our food,” Jackson says. At the student-run café, diners can find dishes like Jackson’s Caribbean quesadilla, filled with fresh local mangoes and homegrown sweet peppers. The chef’s 2018 book, "My Modern Caribbean Kitchen," features 70 dishes he grew up eating — spelled out step-by-step for novice cooks—including pan-fried plantains and a “no-mess” curry chicken.

Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau

Portrait of Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau

 William Richards/Courtesy of Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau


For nearly three decades, Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau have worn many hats in the culinary world: authoring award-winning cookbooks, hosting television shows, and running various restaurants in their home country, Jamaica. The sisters call themselves storytellers and preservers of Caribbean culture — all inspired by the recipes of the women in their family. They currently own and operate Harmony Hall, an 1886 house on a former sugar plantation outside Ocho Rios that is now a National Heritage Trust site. It includes Island Magnolia, a concept store that celebrates Caribbean artisanship, and their restaurant Summerhouse. The menu focuses on seasonal produce and island spices and herbs. This food — like the coal-pot goat roti with coconut, white rum, and pineapple-mango salsa — is meant to be shared.

Alisha Stoute

Pair of photos showing chef Alisha Stoute and her green falafel dish

Courtesy of ECO


Often overshadowed by jerk chicken and oxtail stew, plant-based Caribbean food is not on most travelers’ radars. Alisha Stoute is changing that. As the executive chef at Eco Lifestyle & Lodge, a retreat and restaurant in the Barbados village of Bathsheba, Stoute (a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa) uses the land and sea as her grocery store. Look for dishes like green falafel, made with moringa and spinach, served alongside coconut-and-cashew vegan labneh, black-sesame sauce, cucumber salad, and grilled flatbread.

Isaac Villaverde

Pair of photos showing chef Isaac Villaverder and the window of his La Pata del Coco restaurant

Courtesy of Isaac Villaverde


On any given afternoon, the patio of La Tapa del Coco in Panama City is full of both residents and tourists feasting on salt-cod fritters and clams in coconut-curry broth. Executive chef Isaac Villaverde, who also has a pop-up called Calypso Burger, explains that many dishes are riffs on those of his greatest culinary influence: his grandmother. “My favorite, most nostalgic memory is the smell of my house on Christmas Eve when I was a child,” the chef says. “It was a mix of baked fruit cake and smoked pig leg. Cloves, cinnamon, sorrel, and ginger filled the air.”

A version of this story first appeared in the September 2022 issue of Travel + Leisure under the headline "Cooking the Caribbean."

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