A Taste of the Tropics
Travel around the Caribbean long enough and you’ll uncover a startling revelation—at upscale properties, native flavors can be hard to come by. In an effort to appeal to U.S. sensibilities, many island resorts, luxurious though they may be, have Americanized their menus to the extent that the respective island’s true flavors are overshadowed or—in some cases—not represented at all. Such is not the case at Ladera Resort in Saint Lucia, where the executive chef, Nigel Mitchel—a native Saint Lucian—creates authentic local dishes and takes interested guests through the creative process by way of cooking demonstrations and guided tours at a nearby farmers market. “All Caribbean islands do cuisine differently,” he says. “We use local products and remain authentic to the island. I get everything fresh from the farmers and fishermen, so I am able to prepare farm-to-table cuisine.”
During the spring, guests can expect plenty of mahi mahi on the menu, as well as numerous preparations of breadfruit, a starchy fruit that grows in abundance on the island. But because of its mixed climate and year-round growing season, Saint Lucia has an ever-evolving abundance of local produce—something that provides chefs like Mitchel with constant inspiration and variety. Replicating Saint Lucia’s flavors at home is not an impossible task, though it isn’t easy, either. Some ingredients (like breadfruit) can be hard to find back home, but even some of the island’s common fruits and herbs—lemons, limes, and thyme, for example—carry distinctive flavors from those typically found in the States. Short of moving to Saint Lucia, which Mitchel jokes is the best way to create Saint Lucian cuisine at home, a trip to the local market with the chef can lead to a sizable haul of freshly ground spices, which aid in the effort to whip up Saint Lucian flavors on this side of airport customs. Just make sure Mitchel negotiates the price for you; the savings is significant.
Replicating Ladera Resort’s island cocktails once you’ve returned home, on the other hand, is significantly easier, provided you’ve purchased a bottle of the resort’s homemade spiced rum. Known as the “love potion” rum, the spirit is the creation of the resort’s head bartender, Marcus Barley, who mixes a local rum with sugarcane syrup, nutmeg, cinnamon, rosemary, and—as the label announces—“many local herbs.” The most noteworthy piece of vegetation floating in the bottle (yes, each bottle is teeming with leaves and sprigs of local flora) is pieces of bark from bois bande, a West Indian tree believed to have aphrodisiac qualities—hence the love-potion name.
The rum that pours out from the bottle delivers an aroma that, not surprisingly, is highly herbaceous. The thick, syrupy-sweet liquor is the color of dark molasses (much darker than most island rums), and offers hints of black licorice, cinnamon, and vanilla. What’s more, it completely redefines the mojito, turning the once mint-and-lime-forward concoction into a complex, layered cocktail where rum—this particular rum, anyway—is the star.
It should be noted that Ladera Resort, located on a UNESCO World Heritage Site, doesn’t offer direct access to any beach. The property is nestled into the volcanic hills 1,100 feet above Grace Bay and instead is known for romantic accommodations that offer private plunge pools and unparalleled views of the twin Piton mountains and the bay below. At any other Caribbean resort, not having easy beach access would be catastrophic; but at Ladera, with an aphrodisiac spiced rum on steady pour, personal plunge pools and intimate accommodations more than make up for it. In fact, we’re willing to bet you’ll hardly notice.