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Reflections on Saint Lucia and a Beautiful Recipe from Alexina Anatole

Posted on 30th November 2023 by Anna Orhanen

In this exclusive piece, chef and food writer, and the author of Bitter, Alexina Anatole explores the land, people, light and food of Saint Lucia, deepening her links to the island where her grandparents were born and experiencing the particular magic of Cap Maison. She also shares a beautiful recipe for an aromatic hot drink from the island, perfect for cold winter evenings. 

A fresh flavour trip to Saint Lucia

As I sit in the back of the car, travelling from Saint Lucia’s international airport in the south to Cap Maison Resort & Spa on the north-east edge, Calix, my driver for the journey, proceeds to share all the essential information: how to distinguish banana vs plantain trees; details of Saint Lucia’s topography (it’s a volcanic island, home to the world’s only drive-in volcano); and, of course, his favourite Saint Lucian dishes. I hear all about “one pot” (a catch-all sort of dish, each matriarch making it in her own unique way), and saltfish with “bakes” (a slightly sweetened bread), and rum punch, and the magic of cocoa tea. In spite of family ties to the island –  my grandmother hails from the capital, Castries, whilst my late grandfather was from Dennery in the east – I’ve never visited the island as an adult, but as I sink into the car seat and listen to Calix’s stories, I immediately feel at home.

Saint Lucia, also known as the 'Helen of the West Indies' for its siren beauty, is the ultimate honeymooners’ crash pad. And no wonder: plush emerald greens; vibrant blues of sky and sea; bright illuminating sunshine; a plethora of luxury resorts – it is paradise personified. The luxury resorts represent a certain breezy existence for the traveller, or couple, seeking ultimate relaxation and spectacular sea views, but it’s not just about the beaches here: Saint Lucia’s iconic, towering twin Pitons encourage us to consider the island’s dramatic, sumptuous landscape. Combined with the freshness and fragrance of the cuisine, and the vibrant but laid back nature of the local people, Saint Lucia quickly reveals itself to be a real Caribbean gem – one whose true beauty makes itself known beyond the walls of the luxury resorts. 

Cap Maison is one of the most boutique spots on the island – a resort, technically, but one that feels so intimate and personal that it seems to transcend this label (as soon as I arrive, I consider keeping it a secret). I am greeted with flower-filled gardens, fresh white-washed walls and a sunny welcome, with the peaceful hum of the local birds as a backdrop – nature is the soundtrack here, and it imbues Cap Maison with a sense of deep peace. Exploration happens at leisure: I follow a winding path through the garden through to a small beachy cove, and later step out of the resort to walk the local coastline. It feels like I don’t have to choose: I can explore authentic Saint Lucian culture on the doorstep (and enjoy the touches woven throughout the Cap Maison experience), whilst also experiencing some of the luxury experiences that many of us reserve for holidays.

The dining options at Cap Maison are – as you might expect – outstanding. Head Chef Craig fell in love with Saint Lucia many years ago, but has also worked at some of the top restaurants in the world, and he brings the depth of these two experiences together to create exquisitely presented plates of food that still thrum with the authentic flavours of Saint Lucia. The meal that I enjoy in Cap Maison’s wine cellar, with wines paired by in-house sommelier Robbies, is reminiscent of Michelin-starred food eaten in London, no questions – but delivered with warm Saint Lucian hospitality.

Food experiences in the local area are just as exciting – Cap Maison organise for me to cook with Stacy at her food truck Cool Runnings, and out of that tiny cooking space, with its joyous music and blunt knives, comes some of the best food of the trip – as I tuck into the traditional Saint Lucian breakfast of saltfish and bakes, which is fragrant, fresh and comforting all at once, I can think of no place I’d rather be. The next day a trip to the local market is a riot of colour and sound and smell, stalls piled high with local vegetables, fruits and homemade condiments and remedies. We purchase Julie mangoes – which I eat impatiently, the juices dripping down my arms – fresh tamarind, soursop and bottles of fiery Saint Lucian hot sauce to bring home. And we chat to the market holders, not just about their array of fruits and vegetables, but also the uses for their caterpillar-infused rum (the remedy for a bad stomach, it turns out).

Cap Maison is located near Gros Islet – a pastel-toned fishing village that appears sleepy at first, but starts to shimmy to the sound of reggae and dancehall as the weekly fish fry gets going, evolving into a bustling street party full of makeshift bars and sizzling barbecue, the smell of grilled seafood wafting along in the breeze as the streets thump with Caribbean beats. It is also in Gros Islet – at a hole-in-the-wall spot that Charlie of Cap Maison introduces me to – that I have cocoa tea, a kind of spiced hot chocolate, served steaming hot with a bake balanced on top. Cocoa is one of Saint Lucia’s main agricultural products (a visit to Project Chocolat in the south, for one of their bean-to-bar tours, is a must!), so it’s no wonder that Saint Lucians have concocted something this delicious out of it. Cocoa sticks – compacted cocoa mass, with the addition of a few spices – are grated into a “stock” spiced with bay leaves, cinnamon and nutmeg, then balanced out with milk and a little sweetness. It’s like the best hot chocolate you’ve ever tasted, whilst also being nothing like the hot chocolate you find in the U.K – which is why I had to include the recipe in Bitter. Everyone who tries cocoa tea falls in love with it and, as it so happens, the same can be said for Saint Lucia. I certainly did.

Saint Lucia Cocoa Tea

Saint Lucian cocoa tea is the best hot chocolate you’ll ever taste –and yet it’s not like any other hot chocolate. First, a spiced infusion is made with bay leaves, cinnamon and nutmeg, and then you grate in cocoa stick – a dark, compacted, dry mass of roasted, deshelled and crushed cocoa beans that delivers pure unadorned bitterness. Evaporated milk is added to soothe, and sugar to sweeten, until you have the perfect balance. It’s a drink often served at breakfast with fried bakes (a slightly sweetened bread) and it is the essence of comfort. It is possible to order Saint Lucian cocoa sticks online and I urge you to try the real deal – however, cocoa powder can be used in a pinch: use 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder, increase the sugar slightly and add a pinch of salt.

Ingredients: 

500ml (17fl oz/generous 2 cups) water

2 bay leaves, torn in half

4 cloves

1/4 nutmeg, grated

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half

pinch of fine sea salt

25g (1oz) Saint Lucia cocoa stick, grated

200ml (7fl oz/scant 1 cup) evaporated milk

11/2 tbsp sugar, or to taste

11/2 tsp cornflour (cornstarch)

Instructions: 

1. Combine the water, spices and salt in a pan, bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 15 minutes to create a spiced infusion.

2. Add the grated cocoa stick to the infusion and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Add the evaporated milk and sweeten with sugar to taste, then simmer for another 5 minutes. Finally, in a small glass or bowl whisk

the cornflour with a small measure of the chocolate liquid until there are no lumps, then add this paste to the saucepan and stir to make sure it’s dispersed. Simmer for a final 2–3 minutes, then strain and serve immediately.

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