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Chef Tim Tibbitts on His Favorite Bahamian Dishes
"There are some things I just get a craving for"
Meet Chef Tim Tibbitts. Since opening Flying Fish in Freeport, Grand Bahama, in 2012 with his wife and business partner, Rebecca, the famous Bahamian chef has gained notoriety for his passion to fuse locally sourced ingredients in unique ways and for his careful attention to detail with every dish. Born in The Bahamas, Tibbitts was raised in Toronto, Canada, and studied traditional European cuisine at the renowned George Brown College School of Culinary Arts. In 2014, he was named one of the Caribbean’s top 25 chefs. He is regularly featured as guest chef in the Canadian magazine Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing. He is ﬁlming his ﬁrst reality show about life as a top chef and in the developing stages of two additional TV shows about the food industry in the Caribbean.
How did you end up back in The Bahamas?
I was born here and have family in Freeport. In 2007, my wife and I decided that we wanted to live in The Bahamas. The plan was to come for a year to open a restaurant for a friend of a friend, but from there we started our own catering company, and from the catering company Flying Fish was born.
What is Flying Fish?
Flying Fish is a ﬁne-dining modern seafood experience. The restaurant sits on a premier waterfront location in Lacaya, Grand Bahama, and is the culmination of many years of hard work in the restaurant industry. We have travelled across many cities while conceptualizing Flying Fish, and we have tried to provide part of what we loved from restaurants we love into our own. The menu is ever-changing to reﬂect seasonal products. It is listed by LaListe in France as one of the best restaurants in the world and has been an AAA/ CAA 4 Diamond Award winner for the past four years. It is currently rated the No. 2 restaurant in the entire Caribbean region.
What is the philosophy of your restaurant?
The goal was to design the concept to feel diﬀerent from anything else, especially around here. We wanted that “Freeport meets New York City” feel with warm island hospitality. It’s modern, simplistic and elegant but also warm and welcoming. Flying Fish’s food tends to be a modernist view of tradition. We take many dishes or ﬂavour combinations that are well known and twist them to make them our own. We make the food an eating experience and interactive. Our service style is both reﬁned and casual in a truly Bahamian way. We feel that eating should be an experience you remember.
Why do you love living in The Bahamas?
The Bahamas is such a beautiful and varied country. With over 700 islands, each one unique in some way, there is so much to see and explore. The constant beautiful weather and the most amazing water on Earth are also major features. It is also home to so many diﬀerent people from diﬀerent backgrounds around the world that it has a metropolitan attitude within small-town borders.
What does “eating like a local in The Bahamas” mean to you?
For me, eating like a local should be (and is how we eat) experiencing the best the islands have to provide. The classic Bahamian diet is sugar heavy, carbohydrate heavy and usually fried. While we don’t generally eat that way, there are some things I just get a craving for. We like to take certain things and make them a little lighter, or fresher, or just a little more interesting.
Could you identify ﬁve typically Bahamian dishes and tell us where your favourite restaurant is to eat them?
The Bahamas is a massive country in distance from one place to the next, with water in between each spot, so it’s not the easiest place to explore extensively. However, some things remain constant. The top ﬁve classic Bahamian dishes that we still crave once in a while are:
This is the most important dish in the Bahamian lexicon. Basically, it’s a ceviche, but there are some regional diﬀerences around The Bahamas. In Grand Bahama, the base is lime juice, onion, hot peppers, tomato and sweet pepper. The conch is chopped small and chunky from a live conch. In Nassau, the base will also include sour orange. In some places, they put mayonnaise in it. We have even had it in Abaco with fruit salad added to it. If you like spice, be sure to ask for “plenty pepper.” We have a classic Bahamian conch salad on our menu, and we make it more interesting by freezing the dressing into a disc that sits on top of everything and is blow-torched at the table and dissolves over the food. Not only is it theatrical, but the torch actually changes the ﬂavour of the citrus in the dressing, giving it more depth and character than the original.
This is a simple broth-based dish with fresh ﬁsh, potato and onions, and some places also have carrots in it. I like that for the variety. The best place to get this is at Sea Spray Marina on Elbow Cay in Abaco. Chef Edden’s is the best.
The conch is so important to the Bahamian diet that The Bahamas consumes 80% of the conch it produces. Conch fritters can be heavy, greasy balls of dough with nearly nothing in them, but made well they are light, chunky and tasty! My favourites are here at Flying Fish, on Sunday nights for our “Casual Sunday” menu, or at The Chicken Nest in West End Grand Bahama, where they also make a mean conch salad.
Foreigners are usually repulsed by the idea of eating corned beef from a can. However, when it is stewed with tomato, thyme, hot pepper, onion and sometimes little crispy potatoes and corn, it’s a ﬂavour bomb. Called Fire Engine, it’s usually served over white rice or grits. My favourite place for this is in the parking lot at Lynden Pindling Airport in Nassau. Look for the little shack like a food truck on the domestic side of the airport.
Chicken Souse It’s funny how most of my classic Bahamian foods are all served around breakfast (this dish is traditionally a hangover cure). A delectable broth with chicken, potato and onion, heavy on hot pepper and lime juice, and with the ﬂavour of allspice, it’s delicious served with another Bahamian favourite, Johnny Cake, which is more of a dense bread than a cake. I’ve enjoyed Chicken Souse across The Bahamas, and it’s available on every island at most times of the day. On the weekends it’s usually only available in the mornings, as it sells out early due to its hangover-remedy reputation. Chicken Souse with Johnny Cake is a regular on the delicious menu at Green Turtle Club on Green Turtle Cay in Abaco.