Beach Hopping: Turks and Caicos
Cheers, Turks and Caicos: Caribbean Food and Wine Festival
written by COLLEEN ANN MCNALLY | photos courtesy of GRACE BAY RESORTS
It’s hard to remember which sensation I encountered first — the sound of drums, the touch of tribal paint on my face or the taste of a cool Cabernet Sauvignon. I was caught in a riptide through a sea of people as soon as we entered Parallel23’s domed, outdoor dining room at The Palms Turks and Caicos resort. Amid the chaos and chatter, a waiter handed a small card to me, indicating an assignment to the Green Tribe.
In the candlelight, I peered closer to read the message: We are the people who don’t fit in a box or stay between the lines, but whose integrity is greater than any rule book and whose loyalty is stronger than blood.
“This is going to be my favorite stop,” I said to myself. I had thought the same a few times along our Gourmet Safari, beginning with a cocktail reception at the chic Gansevoort Hotel, followed by a first course under Coyaba Restaurant’s gazebo and a second at Seven Stars. By sunset, my second night of the 2016 Caribbean Food and Wine Festival was just heating up.
I found my tribe’s table and took a seat. A menu at my place-setting revealed seared ostrich tenderloin Wellington with persimmon salad, spiced demi glace and truffles chestnut purée. Parallel23’s chef Lauren Callighen’s dish was an easy conversation starter among other festival-goers and a perfect pairing with the Lail Vineyard’s 2009 J Daniel Cuvée. A few tables away, in another tribe, sat Robin Lail, whose great-granduncle founded the Napa Valley vineyard in 1879.
Suddenly, the crowd went quiet as waiters appeared, heralding plates. In step with the rhythm of the drums, the waiters fanned out among the tables until there was one standing behind every seated guest. With a final beat the drum, each plate was laid on the table in sync.
I picked up my fork with less hesitation than curiosity. I had never tried ostrich before, and while the festival was only halfway over, I craved to know what others surprises were in store.
IMPORTS OF IMPORTANCE
Spoiler alert: the Ostrich Wellington was delectable, although I couldn’t clear my plate because I was saving room for dessert. There was still one more stop ahead on the Gourmet Safari, and it was back at Grace Bay Club, the resort where I was residing during my time on Turks and Caicos.
Grace Bay Resort’s COO and Principal, Nikheel Advani is the co-chairman of the Caribbean Food and Wine Festival, a unique celebration that gathers top chefs from around the globe with the beautiful backdrop of blue waters and a healthy of infusion of island time. The festival’s name could be misleading if attendees are seeking local flavors alone. Just as bottles from Lail Vineyards as well as Eric Wente and his family’s wines were flown in from California, so was the ostrich. Even though she has called Turks and Caicos home since 2006, chef Callighen originally hails from St. John’s, a small city in Canada’s province of Newfoundland. For the 2016 lineup, Callighen was joined by such esteemed visiting chefs and restaurateurs as Shawn McClain and husband-and-wife team Elizabeth Blau and Kim Canteenwalla.
McClain broke onto the scene at Trio restaurant in Evanston, Illinois and later received James Beard Foundation recognition for Spring as well as other restaurants in the Chicago area. Together, Blau and Canteenwalla operate the restaurant development company Blau + Associates, as well as the wildly successful Honey Salt restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada.
While I might not have been able to pick one favorite stop, this much is clear: with this level of talent and collaboration converging in Turks and Caicos, the evolution of the Caribbean Food & Wine Festival has heightened the islands’ culinary scene to a new level.
After the night’s progressive dinner, rest, relaxation and hydration were in store before the festivities continued. With this balance in mind, Grace Bay Club again made for an ideal homebase.
Opened in 1993, Grace Bay Club is the flagship property of Grace Bay Resorts, a boutique developer and operator of high-end, luxury resorts and branded residences. The brand has grown along with the islands’ popularity, and includes an ownership stake in the management of nearby West Bay Club as well as The Residences, a micro-resort with exclusive luxury beachfront villas — all in Turks and Caicos. Grace Bay Club itself has come a long way since its inception.
Through an ongoing design with celebrity interior designer Thom Filicia, Grace Bay Club has been unifying the resort’s different offerings of accommodations and onsite dining with his celebrated style. The aesthetic is both sophisticated, yet playful, from family-friendly suites to Infiniti (formerly Anacaona), the open-kitchen concept with a contemporary approach to international cuisine. The Infiniti Bar is also the longest bar in the Caribbean at 90 feet long and stretches from Grace Bay Club to the shores of Grace Bay beach itself.
For those that like to see and be seen, Infiniti is the place. You’ll never know who might be among the crowd, playing coy in a cabana or being photographed on the beach.
Riding the wave of renown, Grace Bay Resorts plans to expand its award-winning brand and services across the Caribbean destinations and Latin America, with a target of 10 properties in the next few years. Like a Gourmet Safari, I sensed a growing temptation in wanting to visit them all.
If you’ve instead had your fill of pomp and circumstance, don your flip-flops and head to the Island Street Jerk Festival. This fun, family-friendly event showcases local entertainment, expert grilling and barbeque techniques and a little more of that local flavor for the enjoyment of residents and tourists alike. After all, when on Grace Bay Beach, even the world’s best chefs all kick off their shoes.