A taste of the Caribbean

There’s a food revolution under way in the Caribbean. St Kitts chef Orlando Satchell urges Peter Swain to tuck in

St Lucia’s local celebrity chef Orlando Satchell is a chef on a mission. ‘We already have some of the world’s greatest flavours here in the Caribbean,’ he says. ‘But now we’re stepping it up a gear. Presentation is the key. You show how much you love the food not only by creating tasty dishes, but also by presenting them brilliantly well.’

Caribbean food to delight like no other

On his menu in his restaurant in Soufrière, which you can visit with the a Scenes of St Lucia and Lunch at Orlando’s shore experience, you’ll find delicacies such as kingfish with a red wine and guava sauce, and fishcakes made with green bananas and salt cod. ‘Instead of potato, we boil bananas then mash them and add the cod. We serve them with a creole sauce and sweet potato fries,’ he explains.

And there in one dish is the secret of the Caribbean’s culinary transformation: fresh, locally grown ingredients combined with international fare, and skilful presentation by chefs trained in Europe or the USA. 

Bountiful Caribbean lands

Almost anything can be sourced in this tropical region. From the deep blue seas, fishermen bring delicacies such as wahoo, mahi, red snapper, spiny lobster and conch to the table – you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted spicy conch chowder.

And from the lands of plenty, exotic fruits, pungent spices and succulent vegetables are staples of local life. Many have a colourful history, too. Take the humble breadfruit, which grows on trees and tastes like a potato (but better). Captain Bligh, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, was bringing the fruit from Tahiti to the West Indies when it all went, er, pear-shaped. Despite the mutinous actions of crew, the crop did eventually arrive and is now a firm local favourite.

Cacao, the bean from which we get chocolate and believed by the Maya to have been discovered by the gods, has for many years been successfully cultivated in St Lucia. And when in the Caribbean, don’t ignore the soursop. The spiky fruit looks rather unappetising, but makes the most delicious ice cream and is now being nurtured by local farmers. 

World-class chefs

Exemplifying the new approach to sustainably produced food, Belle Mont Farm on St Kitts boasts an organic garden from which the likes of avocados, pomegranates, mangos, papaya and carambola (starfruit) are combined in the Farm’s the Kitchen restaurant.

Chefs at destinations like St Kitts, Barbados and St Maarten hail from France, America, Holland and Japan. And it’s this international influence that’s really making a difference.

‘Not only the chefs, but many of the ingredients originate in Asia, Europe and Africa,’ points out Orlando, who’s from London via Birmingham. ‘This is real fusion cuisine: ginger from Asia, coconut from Thailand, cod from Europe, christophine (chayote) from Mexico.’

Caribbean flavours at the core

For P&O Cruises guests stopping in St Lucia, Orlando offers an intimate culinary tour de force, with a demonstration of his fine culinary expertise followed by a three-course lunch served for a maximum of 20 people at a time. ‘A guest should be treated as if they’re coming into your home,’ believes Orlando.

Working with marinades and seasoning, it’s all about creating the ‘mmm’ effect, – his mahi with creole rice and coconut sauce is simply unmissable. ‘My cuisine always relies on local, fresh ingredients and perfectly cooked food,’ says Orlando. ‘When preparing tuna, for example, I always say that it should just kiss the grill.’

It all adds up to a delectable prospect and every island has its own tastes. In the Caribbean, variety really is the spice of life, which is half the fun of a cruise holiday here.

Peter Swain

A former award-winning TV documentary producer, Peter Swain now specialises in Caribbean travel stories and explores the region from his base on St Kitts.