You Are Where You Eat
Beverly Stephen - January/February 2010
Good food is top priority for today's travelers, and they want it to deliver a sense of place. No more Dover sole in the Caribbean!
Back in the day, when swells would pack as many evening clothes as bathing suits, the ladies who lunch would say: "Darling you must go down to Round Hill. It's divine even if the food is awful."
Today, thanks to a big push toward culinary excellence on the part of this Blue Chip Jamaican resort on a former pineapple plantation in Montego Bay, the refrain has changed to "the food is divine."
"We noticed over the years that guests would say Round Hill is perfect, but you must do something about the food," says Katrin Schafelner-Casserly, director of sales and marketing for Round Hill Villa Resort. "Food is now as important as a beautiful villa, a fitness center, or a spa," she continues. "People never expected it before. Now they do."
There was a time when glamour was the currency. Cole Porter sang at the bar. Rogers and Hammerstein wrote The Sound of Music in one of the villas. Jackie Kennedy and Grace Kelly checked in. An aristocratic Upper East Sider recalls that his parents went to Round Hill because they loved the parties. And those parties are immortalized in the black-and-white photographs of the dressed-to-the-nines celebrities and socialites adorning the walls of the Ralph Lauren–designed bar. (Yes, Ralph's a villa owner.) Who paid attention to eating?
But now culinary glamour is a valued coin of the realm. So Bill Moore, an international f&b veteran who now owns Creative Food and Beverage Solutions, his own training company, came on as a consultant to shine these coins. He believes the resort should showcase a Jamaican cuisine comparable to the best international cuisine. He brought in executive chef Martin Maginley, twice named chef of the year in Jamaica, to realize this vision. Maginley has added new menus, opened a new restaurant with contemporary dishes, and introduced in-villa dining. Like chefs everywhere, he's emphasizing local ingredients, making sure even the breakfast buffet includes Jamaican specialties such as callaloo (the green leaves of the taro plant, similar to collards), saltfish, and ackee (a bright red tropical fruit with large black seeds and creamy white flesh). "We try not to import," Maginley says, explaining how much of his produce is now grown in an organic garden on the property and soon even more will be delivered from Pantrepant, an independent organic farm that sits inland on the estate of island music legend Chris Blackwell.
"We're taking road food to the next level," he says, referring to the ubiquitous snacks proffered along the island's highways and byways. "Bill Moore is in the forefront. The movement is slow but it's happening."
For example, "Oxtail is a staple in Jamaican cooking. To upgrade, you can fill ravioli with it or make it into a consommé," Maginley explains. When he cooked at the James Beard House recently, he offered oxtail dumplings with five bean ragoût.
His menus at the resort include dishes such as roasted breadfruit vichysoisse, ackee and plantain gâteaux with Scotch Bonnet foam, and jerk chicken spring rolls wrapped in rice paper with sweet chile/mango dip.
The integrated four course tasting menu with rum pairings, beginning with a light Martini infused with pimento and green tea and moving to a 21 year old reserve comparable to Cognac, illustrates the new Jamaica cuisine he envisions taking local ingredients and traditions upmarket.
Round Hill Villa Resort Rum Dinner
Oxtail Consommé with Vanilla Royale & Orange Biscotti. "Make a double strength oxtail consommé. Infuse it with a broth of pimento and green tea. Pimento grows wild in Jamaica and we pick the berries and leaves right off the trees, but pimento berries from a gourmet store can be used. The infusion is made by steeping green tea with pimento leaves and berries. Use a sachet, as the flavors can develop quickly. The taste will be slightly bitter and is then balanced with a little cane or simple syrup. Make a classic royale egg custard (without sugar) with egg yolks and vanilla infused half-and-half. Make biscotti with orange zest. To serve, place custard in soup bowls then pour consommé around. Accompany with biscotti. The consommé complements a pimento and green tea Martini, which was developed to showcase the rum. The orange zest picks up citrus notes."
Oven Roasted Ocean Grouper with Seasoned Bammy Chips over Wilted Greens. "Season grouper fillets for 30 minutes with smoked sea salt and fresh black pepper. Wrap fillets with thinly sliced pancetta and slowly roast in the oven at approximately 325 degrees for 20 minutes over a bed of wood chips that have been soaked in water for at least 12 hours. Thinly slice cassava cakes (which can be purchased in speciality stores normally under the name of bammy. If this is not available, you can substitute tortilla chips) on a mandoline and toast to make crisp bammy chips. Flash stir-fry arugula. Marinate Mission figs in hot water with a shot of rum. Serve grouper on a bed of stir-fried arugula accompanied with bammy chips and marinated figs. The marinated figs make the connection to the rum cocktail, which holds a roasted fig infused with rum served with aged Parmesan on the side."
Orange Zest Rubbed Pork Loin "Boston-Style" with Cane Molasses & Angostura Bitters Served with Yuca/Celeriac Puree, Cardamon Caramelized Fennel & Green Bean/Pumpkin/Chayote Slaw. "The reintroduction of jerking on a commercial scale took place in Boston, hence the moniker. Pork has always been the traditional meat for jerking, which consists of rubbing the meat with a blend of Scotch Bonnet or jalapeño peppers, dried pimento berries, cayenne pepper, papaya juice (if you want a wet mix), ground scallions, and ginger. There are many good mixtures that can be purchased either as a wet product or a dried rub. Traditionally, the meat is then cooked in an open pit oven over green pimento wood and covered with leaves and earth. Rub pork loin with jerk seasonings and orange zest; let stand 48 hours. Instead of digging a pit, I roast it in a pizza oven with pimento leaves to simulate the cooking process, which works fine as long as you use a low heat. Serve with a molasses and bitters sauce made with a little chicken stock and butter; a yuca/celeriac puree with nutmeg; and a slaw made with julienned pumpkin, green beans, chayote, and red peppers dressed with yogurt, lemon juice, honey, fresh ginger, fresh mint, and olive oil. The orange zest and the bitters in the sauce complement the orange juice and bitters in the rum cocktail."
Molten Chocolate Cake. Pastry chef Paula Reid. "Make a chocolate cake batter using almond flour. Insert a chocolate truffle into the center of each individually sized cake before baking. Bake 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve with a rum infused crème anglaise. Flambé with overproof rum. Pair with aged rum."