Basseterre, St. Kitts – Nevis
November 18, 2007 (CUOPM)
The Travel Section of the Daily News, New York’s City’s No. 1 newspaper, the fifth largest in the United States and the fifth-best-selling Sunday paper in the United States, carried a story Sunday in the Travel Section entitled: “Surf & turf on St. Kitts” written by David Handschuh and co-incides with the inaugural flight from New York to St. Kitts by American Airlines.
He (Handschuh) writes: “The day began with the chef at the market, picking out produce for a banquet; now the diners sit back and watch the evening’s entertainment.
As the plane banked hard to the left 14,000 feet over St. Kitts, the sight of gray, ominous clouds hovering over lush, green mountains momentarily put dreams of a sun-drenched tropical vacation on hold.
But as the beachfront of this Caribbean paradise came into view, there suddenly appeared a good omen that set the tone for our visit – a bright, beautiful rainbow.
There’s a lot to like about colorful St. Kitts, the largest of the two-island Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, a former British colony in the West Indies. It’s an unhurried, small (69 square miles), sparsely populated (about 30,000 residents) place where the occasional car makes roadside monkeys scatter and the Caribbean Sea delivers pounding surf on one side and serenity on the other. And a stay at the recently built St. Kitts Marriott Resort, a 600-room oceanfront behemoth, uncovers a wealth of culinary delights.
The highlight of the trip wasn’t only the amazing food – the Marriott’s six restaurants offer enough choices to keep guests from repeating a meal during a stay – it was getting the chance to help prepare a sumptuous island dinner.
Chef Andreas Mahl and sous chef Matt Tabla took us shopping for the fruits, vegetables and spices they needed for an eight-course Saturday-night dinner for 25 VIP guests at 400-year-old Brimstone Castle, on the other end of the island.
We rose before sunrise that morning and took a taxi to the market in Basseterre, which was already crowded. Kittitans tend to make their Saturday-morning trip to the market an outing – socializing, catching up on politics, gossiping.
Marketgoers greeted Mahl and Tabla, who perused the wooden stalls and bright blankets overflowing with produce that were on the vine or in the ground just the day before. Unusual fragrances filled the air as the chefs sorted through limes and papayas, root vegetables and fresh mint.
At the hotel, they immediately got to work chopping, slicing, blending and prepping. There is no outside kitchen at Brimstone, so the entire operation had to be transported there.
At dinner, as waiters in formalwear served drinks, Mahl was in the tent wrestling with the challenge of pan-searing two dozen filets mignons over a trio of one-burner propane stoves – strong winds kept blowing out the burners.
But Mahl was determined to wow the diners, and he did, beginning with a course of giant prawns. While each dish drew oohs and ahhs, most of the guests were unaware of the passion that went into creating even the small, mushroom-filled raviolis.
At the end of the night, back at the hotel, Mahl finally unwound, and the feast was dissected and critiqued. Every meal, he said, is a learning experience, and he is always determined to do it better next time.
The 1994 Sauterne went down nicely, and the late-night conversation between the chefs and guests was punctuated by laughs – and framed by exhaustion.
Tomorrow was Sunday, and Mahl could sleep in and relax a bit. At least until it was time to make dinner again.”