Saint Lucia Chef Jonathan Dearden of Jade Mountain: Sangria Glazed Shrimp with Tropical Fruit Salsa
Caribbean Cuisine at St. Lucia Soufriere
Near a heap of mangoes wreathed in citrus sprigs, pineapple and breadfruit prickle assorted tropical fruit. Bright bell peppers wrangle carrots' ferny tops, while stolid hairy taro roots and their larger cousin dasheen, bigger than two fists, shore up the pile. A fiery St Lucian Madras cloth covers the table under an artful pile of produce, freshly picked this morning, without wrapping or plastic, the way it left the soil. This cornucopia for the senses vies with colors, shapes, smells, textures, and flavors. It's all so enthusiastic.
So's the chef. His passion for Caribbean cuisine and this tropical shores beach resort is contagious. When you're up here on top of Jade Mountain feasting your eyes on the twin peaks of the Pitons, you almost don't want to think about food. This scenery is hot. It's food for the soul. But when you need to feed the body Chef Jonathan Dearden is cooking in paradise. So leave the sanctuary of your infinity pool where the wall of living plants reflects in still water beside inverted mountains and come to Jonathan's “Cooking in Paradise” class in the Jade Club Lounge for a taste of tropical fruit relish with sangria-glazed shrimp and Chef Jonathan's Caribbean cuisine recipes.
Jonathan Dearden has been cooking professionally since he was 13 years old, when he started in the restaurant his father managed. Dad got him a summer job in the kitchen as a way to keep him off the streets and out of trouble. Young Jonathan started by washing dishes but, quickly recognizing that food was his passion, he started to experiment with ingredients and techniques he saw around him. He has never looked back. In his teens, his family moved from Washington, DC to Miami, where he grew to appreciate and love tropical fruit. His arrival at Jade Mountain teamed him with Sous-chef Elijah Jules. The culinary chemistry between them really got things cooking.
"One of my favorite parts of being a chef is using the senses--using all 5 of the senses. A 6th sense is what Eli has--passion. We love what we do. That's what lets us evolve this recipe, and makes it a little different every time we make it, because we use what is fresh and ready in the moment. A little plan, a little improvisation---that's what makes a great cook. I could never be doing what I do here without him. He has been my local teacher, showing what native foods there are on Saint Lucia and how people here cook with them. We teach and learn from each other. Eli comes to me and says, 'Chef, this is what's ready, let's cook this today.' We didn't know this morning what we were going to cook tonight."
Today they are cooking Sangria Glazed Shrimp and a Tropical Fruit Salsa. This Sangria Glazed Shrimp recipe started like many great ones do--from a mistake.
"There was some bad wine in our kitchen, and the chef told me, Jonathan, find a way to use this up. So I experimented and came up with this glaze for shrimp or you could also use it for barbecue sauce for fish or meat. Play around and find out--that's what cooking is…experiment!"
With it they'll have tropical fruit salsa, from whatever fruits are in season. Today it's mangoes--mango season is just starting in Saint Lucia, and five varieties grow right on the property. Here are Tommy Atkins, greater mango, Julie mango, long mango, and string mango--called because it tastes great but it leaves strings between the teeth. They'll add papaya and a few other things to the salsa. Jonathan holds up a love apple--pale red skin around crisp white flesh, shaped like a small Delicious apple, with points at the bottom. Playfully he tosses it to Eli, who cuts it open to reveal a core with small black seeds.
"Here, bite into this," he says, offering slices to the guests. "What does that taste like?"
One of the honeymooners ventures, "It's like an apple, a cross with a pear--you know like a Korean pear."
"Do you like that?"
"Absolutely! It's fantastic."
Local organic food from Emerald Estates
Chef Jonathan is inspired by the local St Lucian food, most of it grown organically about ten minutes away on the property's 30 acre organic farm, Emerald Estates. Every Tuesday he drives out to consult with the manager David Lee and pick up freshly picked produce for the afternoon's cooking class. Every Thursday he visits again to see what is ripening and will be available soon for next week's menus. This summer the farm is producing very well.
"Herbs smell 5 times better here," he grins. "This lemon basil we use in pesto and dorado. My favorite is lavender basil--it grows fast here and has an aromatic smell. Recognize these? Long beans-- used a lot in Asian cooking. I like to braid 3 together and wrap it around potatoes for garnish. Almost every day we will make a tropical fruit relish with whatever is freshly picked and in season. We have passion fruits today, my favorite fruit."
Reflection of the Pitons in the infinity pool
Meanwhile, in the dining room of Jade Mountain, next to the mosaic infinity pool where the reflections of Gros and Petit Piton barely ruffle in the breeze of sundown, Eli has been busy. He passes Jonathan the silver bowl with finely diced Caribbean fruits for the salsa--sweet red pepper, red love apple with white pulp, yellow pineapple and passion fruit, orange mango and green papaya. Here is a heap of bright colors, fresh spices, and local living food that pleases eye, nose, and palate.
"We'll add some hot peppers," Jonathan says. "Here's a variety of them--they are not all hot. How do you tell if the pepper is hot? Smell it--if it smells spicy, it's hot. We are using lemon basil as well as lavender to balance the lime in the salsa with a citrus flavor in the shrimp. In most of my recipes, you can substitute anything that's ripe."
Jonathan Dearden’s Recipe for Salsa:
Finely dice tropical fruits in season--pineapple, mango, passion fruit, love apple, papaya, red pepper and hot green pepper. Drizzle with fresh lime juice. Mix. Let stand for ten minutes before serving.
Use your favourite wine, equal parts red and white. Heat a shallow pan or skillet over medium heat and add 11/2 cups of each wine for glaze for 24 shrimp. Add 1 1/2 cups orange marmalade to the wine and mix.
Add diced pineapple and simmer. Choose pineapple when it is still a little green, so its not overripe. Smell the bottom. There is a good pineapple fragrance if the fruit is ripe.
Add a little orange juice to thin the sauce to the right consistency.
Make this glaze sauce ahead of time, a day ahead of time or longer. You can store it in the fridge for a maximum of 7 days. When you are ready to cook, add the aromatics. Caribbean food is all about spices--fresh herbs lavender and lemon basil, cinnamon bark, bay leaf, whole star anise, grated nutmeg and hot peppers. Add some of these to your taste to the sauce. Add chopped green onions.
Today Jonathan is adding the flowers of lavender basil, which is also good to add to salads for a fresh, pungent flavour.
Cooking perfect Shrimp
Glaze and salsa ready, it's time to start the shrimp. So according to Jonathan how do you cook perfect shrimp? You don't want them undercooked, still pink and fishy tasting. You don't want them overcooked and mushy. Just perfectly succulent and juicy. These are tiger shrimp, farm raised in Guyana. Stick to fresh. Season them from high up with salt to spread the seasoning evenly. Turn them over, and season the other side. Heat the pan first, and add olive oil. He recommends cold pressed olive oil for best flavour. It has a low smoking point, so don't overheat. On medium heat, add the seasoned shrimp. Turn them and stir them right away to coat them evenly in the oil and help prevent sticking. Deglaze the "tort" from the pan with a little Sangria Glaze. Stir the bits of shrimp stuck to the pan into the sauce. Don't overcook the shrimp. They should still be a little pink at the edges (5 minutes or so).
Pile salsa on each plate. Add the perfectly cooked Sangria-glazed shrimp and serve.
Let your guests toast each other with Bentleys while you cook. This is the greeting drink that welcomes guests on arrival at Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain, refreshment after the journey as staff carries the luggage to the room at check-in.
Lime juice, grenadine sugar syrup, fill glass with soda water. Decorate with sugar cane swizzle made by peeling sugar cane and cutting it into glass length sticks as thick as a pen. Guests stir with the cane swizzle, then suck and chew the cane to enjoy the sweet sap that once refined turns to molasses, rum or brown and white sugar.
What's in season in Saint Lucia in July? Love apples, soursops, mangoes, papayas, pineapples. Other fruits have no season, they just grow--sugar cane, banana. In the moments between slicing, stirring, and explaining the steps of the recipe as he does it, chef Jonathan teaches us about the local foods he uses in the award winning Jade Mountain kitchen.
"Sour sop is one of my favourite fruits, knobbly green on the outside with a white custard texture inside whose flavour is reminiscent of vanilla" He passes out leaves attached to a small branch for us to smell. "That's not a lime on the sprig, that's an orange. They start off small and green and ripen into the large orange fruit we know. "Scratch and sniff to release the smell of the oil, then you will recognize the fruit by it's smell."
From the pile of produce on the Madras-covered table to his left he shows us a few of the unusual ones:
- Love apples are just coming into season, small red fruits, slightly sour, with a black seed inside like apples.
- Christophane grows on a vine like a squash.
- Taro root--bigger than two fists, brown, knobbly, hairy, lots of work to peel it, but is has a nice flavour. He cooked with them in Miami and kitchens abroad, and this local relative is dasheen, which is bigger than taro and rarely exported.
Every Tuesday 5:30-6:30 Chef Jonathan Dearden holds his cooking class for guests of Jade Mountain. His team harvest in the morning at the local organic farm that belongs to the Anse Chastanet/ Jade Mountain property, and cook fresh local Caribbean-world fusion cuisine at night. Take a look at Chef Jonathan Dearden cooking Pan-seared Kingfish with Caribbean Fricassee in “Cooking in Paradise” at this link:
Jade Mountain and l'Anse Chastanet
Tonight his guests with the savour of Sangria Glazed Shrimp with Tropical Fruit Salsa sharp on their palates drift away to the evening ahead, some to the beach sunset at the sister resort of l’Anse Chastenet, some to the tropical stars on the Celestial Terrace upstairs above the Jade Lounge, some to the artfully decorated rooms to prepare for dinner. Tomorrow is another day in this timeless place, to spend swimming, sailing, practicing yoga, jungle biking, climbing the Pitons, exploring the drive-in volcano near Soufriere, or snorkeling on the World Heritage site reef just offshore.
After a direct hit by Hurricane Tomas on October 30, 2010, Saint Lucia has reopened its airports, roads, and resorts and is on the way to recovery. Yet many people lost their homes and there is still much to be done to rebuild. In a community with few social support services, families depend on employment income from hotels to rebuild flooded homes, pay children's school fees, and support the elderly. Donations have been flooding in from around the world from past guests of the sister resorts l'Anse chastanet and Jade Mountain, and during the last week of January, 2011 contributions received so far were distributed to staff members who lost their homes during the flooding and mudslides of the storm. Tourism is the island’s main business, so if you are thinking of a Caribbean honeymoon package, beach wedding, vacation or snorkeling destination, look into Saint Lucia. If you wish to make a direct donation, follow the links on the Help Soufriere Facebook page. Donations are tax-deductible for US taxpayers.
Saint Lucia Jazz takes place between May 4th and 8th. To celebrate the festival's 20th anniversary this year, the line-up includes some of the world's biggest Jazz, Reggae, Soul, World Music and Rhythm & Blues musicians. After appearing at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, John Legend is mainstaging with his band Roots. Four-time Grammy nominee Ledisi sings soul, hip hop, blues, gospel, R & B--what doesn't she sing? You can watch her jamming with Stevie Wonder here. World Music original Angelique Kidjo is also performing. Kidjo is not only recognized internationally as a charismatic musician, but also uses her talent and influence to raise money and create opportunities for other African girls to receive education. Her Batonga foundationcurrently operates in five countries to help African nations improve quality of life for their citizens by educating girls. The line-up also includes Reggae artist Tarrus Riley, and more.
The Reggae Beat of Tarrus Riley She's Royal
Jade Mountain Saint Lucia Cooking Class with Executive Chef Jonathan Dearden
Saint Lucia: Portrait of an Island
Text by Nobel Prize winning St. Lucian native son Derek Walcott, with photographs by Jenny Palmer.
The sister resorts of l'Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain are located about 5 km west of Soufriere, St Lucia.