A French man cooking in the Caribbean

One of the highlights of my recent trip to unspoiled Nevis in the West Indies/Caribbean was a cookery lesson with executive chef Stéphane Caumont at family-run boutique hotel Montpelier Plantation & Beach where there are just 19 rooms – and three restaurants.

For history fans this Relais & Châteaux hotel is where the late Princess Diana found refuge from the media when she split from Prince Charles in 1993.  And British Admiral Horatio Nelson married his first wife Fanny Nisbet here in 1787.

Here’s my interview with Stéphane followed by some easy cooking tips from him.

Montpelier’s executive chef Stéphane Caumont

Sunshine Foodie: As a professional chef and a French national what impressed you most about the cuisine in Nevis?

Stéphane: How they maximize the use of local products for a simple cooking culture that brings us fantastic flavours, colours and smell. Nevisian food culture uses a lot of mango, pumpkin, lobster, local roots, and they are ingredients to die for.

The secret to a tropical island salsa: get it briefly  hot in the pan
The secret to a tropical island salsa: get it briefly hot in the pan

Sunshine Foodie: Are there any foods you miss from France? What’s the first thing you eat when you go back home?

Stéphane:  I don’t really miss anything from France, but when I go home I like to keep it simple and enjoy some simple typically French products with friends and family: foie gras, oysters, charcuterie, rib eye steak cooked on the barbecue “Bordeaux Style” (using vine shoots not charcoal), a selection of cheeses with French bread, and a good bottle of red wine of course.

Sunshine Foodie: You keep the cookery lessons at Montpelier very small and intimate (you don’t mix people who don’t know each other), so you really get to know how people eat and cook. What do most people want to know from you?

Stéphane: I think the first reason people come for the class is because they  like good food and are interested in finding out about the dishes they love to eat, whether they cook or not. The second reason is that they are looking to learn how to cook simple, tasty, and quick dishes when they are at home every night with family. Finally I think people try to re-educate themselves, they want to learn to eat healthy and organic, to cook cuisines new to them like Japanese and Asian, to try new trends and techniques like molecular, and of course to discover one or two secrets from the chef.

Easy to cook at home: Pan-seared fish, tropical salsa, lime-scented rice
Easy to cook at home: Pan-seared fish, tropical salsa, lime-scented rice

Sunshine Foodie: Do you have any advice for foodies who love food too much and know they need to cut down?

Stéphane :  I won’t tell people who love food to stop eating one thing or another. I’m as much gourmet as greedy.  I will simply advise them not eat something excessively, to take the time to eat slowly and appreciate their food, and to vary their diet. I don’t think for example that it’s necessary to eat chips, chocolate, sweets or  cheese every day, but it doesn’t mean we should eliminate these from our diet.

Here are some simple tips from the cookery lesson with Stéphane:

Go for white balsamic vinegar   This has an intense taste like regular balsamic vinegar but it’s made with white grapes so it’s taste is lighter.  And because of the colour, aesthetically it works better with light coloured foods. Stéphane likes to roast pumpkin and then add a vinaigrette made with white balsamic vinegar so the pumpkin retains its orange colour.

Try molecular cooking (and find your inner Heston Blumenthal)spherical (2) Ok, this isn’t a simple tip, but I think it’s one that will appeal even to foodies who don’t cook. Molecular cooking is associated with top level gastronomy from names like Heston Blumenthal and Spain’s Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame. It isn’t for every day or even every weekend cooking, but for those special occasions we can bring science into our repertoire now that home kits are available. Stéphane showed us how to make citrus caviar. Injecting chemistry into cooking is definitely fun (I’m sure kids will love this) as you watch the dissolving, fizzing and the transformation of something like orange juice into an intense tasting jelly that does look like caviar. Stephane told me about the  Selfridges molecular gastronomy starter kit so that’s on my list for my new home.

Creating citrus caviar with chemistry
Creating citrus caviar with chemistry

Cook rice in cold water – and scent it   Stéphane maintains that adding hot stock or water doesn’t make for perfect rice. Add cold liquid (room temperature rather than ice fridge cold) and bring to the boil before allowing to simmer so that the rice cooks through and not on outside. Rather than just boiling rice, start with  some oil in the pan, stir in the rice and cook for a couple of minutes, then add lemon or lime zest, salt and then the water.  The result is delicately fragrant.

Use tools of the trade  Stéphane  uses Global Knives  and a Microplane zester (much easier and efficient than those tiny home things as you can zest direct into the pan)

Keep fresh fish simple

Tuna Tartar
Tasty tuna tartare

You don’t need fancy recipes and sauces for fish. When it’s truly fresh, keep it simple.  The beach bars on the island are also grills with short menus that include a catch of the day.  The local fish mahi mahi and wahoo are robust and chunky and are served grilled with a little relish of some sort on the side. At Montpelier’s informal poolside Indigo bar-restaurant grilled fish comes with a passion fruit salsa on the side. Even on its 750 menu the attitude is less is more with fish. Ceviche has the tiniest cubes of red pepper which adds a sprinkling of contrasting colour, texture and taste.

Use the best sea salt Stephane’s favourite proves that it really is loved by chefs the word over: Maldon

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