In St Lucia, big hearts, big appetites and big flavours go hand in hand. To live, to love, to laugh, and eat: they are life’s true sensory pleasures. Flavoursome stews and tongue-tingling hot pepper-spiced curries, barbecued chicken, succulent seafood or the island’s exotic, tropical fruits: St Lucian kitchens produce an array of delicious Caribbean dishes, freshly picked, newly plucked and pulled straight from the sea. Evoking age-old culinary traditions in vast pots, pans and bubbling cauldrons and using the bountiful produce from St Lucia’s well-stocked natural store-cupboard, food is made to be shared.
St Lucia’s best-loved dishes have been passed down through the generations, sometimes with a lighter modern twist. Using every island spice and herb to embellish taste and colour, and coconut milk for thickening, most dishes centre on fish, meat and chicken served with cassava, papaw, yams and guavas, potatoes or rice.
Once the Caribbean became a crossroads for the world, St Lucia welcomed African culinary elements, from okra, callaloo and fish cakes to mangos and spiced pork cooked over hot coals (jerk). Migrant workers from India and China brought with them roti (bread), curry powder and rice while the early Iberian sailors introduced codfish, oranges, figs, date palms, sugar cane and grapes. Breadfruit owes much to Polynesian boatmen, while America brought kidney beans, corn, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, and chilli peppers. Today it is common to find fusion dishes on the menu, such as grilled salmon fillet marinated in mouth-watering passion-fruit jerk sauces and stir-fried coconut conch, alongside traditional curried goat.
Keen to learn the art of St Lucian gastronomy? Then why not join one of the island’s fast-growing number of cookery schools. Each offers a distinctly different style, from BBQ cooking in steel pans on the beach to exquisite dining with lots of hands-on cooking, tasting and shopping. Most include fascinating tours to local farmers, markets, distilleries, fishermen and bakeries to better understand St Lucia’s natural food provenance. All classes are suitable for chefs or novices alike, with numbers limited to ensure an intimate gourmand experience rather than a frenzied foodie free-for-all.
An earthy food appreciation is the goal at Chef Jo Anne’s Little Lucian Cooking School where lip-smacking authentic island dishes are prepared with gusto to hip-swinging Calypso music. Tailored sessions demystify the unique Creole mix of French, Spanish and African flavours through a colourful and sumptuous celebration of West Indian spices.
Under the tutorage of Jo Anne, students are guided in the art of savouring coconut water, from splicing the nut with a machete, to throwing their heads back to drink and scoop the coconut jelly from freshly cut green fruit. Other options include BBQ kitchens on the sands, cocktail making, and a rum-and-food pairing masterclass at which quite a lot of rum is sampled – in the name of, erm, research, naturally.
At the Cap Maison cooking school a convivial atmosphere prevails amongst steam-shrouded pans and piles of glistening whole red snappers in a beautiful family-run property located on the island’s North-Western tip. Led by Head Chef Craig Jones from the award-winning restaurant The Cliff at Cap, kick off with a trip around Castries market to source fresh, local ingredients, from seasonal vegetables and fruit, such as plantain and dashene to seafood including red mahi mahi.
Once back in the kitchen, with knives sharpened and St Lucian spices at the ready, it’s time to prepare authentic West Indian dishes using Caribbean know-how, French aplomb and Craig’s step-by-step culinary wizardry. Whatever you cook, you eat at the stunning Cliff at Cap where views across to Martinique are the perfect aperitif.
Cliff at Cap Cooking Classes
Costs $US75 per person each Saturday morning.
The Little Lucian Cooking School
Costs vary depending on the season (1 day course)
Have you mastered the art of cooking great Caribbean dishes? What are your favourite St Lucia recipes?
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About the author: SarahWoodsSarah Woods
Award-winning travel writer, author & broadcaster Sarah Woods has lived, worked and travelled in The Caribbean since 1995. She has visited resort towns, villages and lesser-known islands where she has learned to cook run-down, sampled bush rum, traded coconuts, studied traditional medicine, climbed volcanoes and ridden horses in the sea. Sarah is currently working on a travel documentary about the history of Caribbean cruises.