Hi Food Friends: I’ve been away for a while — in the Caribbean! It happens every single March: I am overcome by an immediate and powerful craving for a get-away. To a beach. With blue, blue water, soft sand, palm trees and colorful cocktails. And since I’ve becom such an avid food freak, I also need a place that has FANTASTIC FOOD. Not always so easy in the Caribbean, where most food has to be imported and the focus is often on other things. But then. I found it! CuisinArt Resort, on the beautiful island of Anguilla! Did I have to get up at 3:30 a.m. for a 5:45 a.m. flight to get there? Yes. Did it take almost 12 hours to get there, door-to-door? Yes. But I am happy to report it exceeded every expectation — especially the food! I mean, look at this place!
It is indeed owned by the Cuisinart company (reportedly the CEO wanted to build a private home on Anguilla but there was some mix-up with local laws and Cuisinart Resort is the result). So – with an owner like Cuisinart, the place comes with certain expectations, right? Especially when it comes to food and bev. And I’m happy to report that it delivers .
First of all, many Caribbean island are made of nothing but molten lava, so they can’t grow fruits and vegetables. So everything winds up getting imported from North America or Europe, via St. Maarten. And it takes days to get it to these remote islands. So to solve that, Cuisinart has its own 18,000-square-foot hydroponic farm, where fresh tomatoes, lettuces, peppers, eggplants, herbs, cucumbers, bok choy, microgreens and more are grown – and harvested daily.
Knowing how excited I was about this mash-up of Caribbean paradise with first-class food, my fabulous travel agent, Julie, at Rex Travel, talked to the people at Cuisinart and and they very generously arranged for a private tour of the hydroponic gardens and a Japanese cooking class at their newest restaurant, Tokyo Bay!
After breakfast on Monday morning, we met up with Dr. Howard Resh, who is a world-renowned pioneer in hydroponic farming. The man is extremely knowledgeable and has really changed the way that food can be grown locally in arid and often non-arable Caribbean islands. If something is grown hydroponically it means it is grown in water, without actual soil. So Dr. Resh and his team tend to hundreds of plants, feeding them with nutrient-filled ocean water that they desalinate through reverse osmosis. Below you see Dr. Resh lifting one of the rafts that the hydroponic lettuces grow in. They harvest 125 heads of tender, delicious butter lettuce a day for salads.
In fact, when we arrived in our junior suite, there was a lovely spread of meat and bread and tomato tapenade and a bowl of sweet, sweet cherry tomatoes from the hydroponic farm – SO GOOD! I have to say, it was really fun to meet Dr. Resh and get a first-hand look at how hydroponic farming works.
But time was passing and we were due at our sushi-making class at 10:30! We hadn’t even gotten to the beach yet and I was having so much fun!
We met Chef Ken Lin, who joined Cuisinart just recently, when it opened Tokyo Bay in early 2012, which serves authentic Japanese fare, including sushi and teriyaki dishes and they also have a teppanyaki table, where chefs cook on the flat-top right in front of you. We ate dinner there twice (once at the teppanyaki table and once we just had a sushi festival. Oh, and those wok-seared edamame, with a fiery chili heat – divine!)
I was excited because I’d never made sushi, and I’m starting to like sushi more and more. Chef Ken was super nice, and somehow we managed to turn out some pretty decent California rolls, using amazingly fresh and beautiful ingredients. Then we made teriyaki sauce (soy sauce, mirin (sweet Japanese sake), chicken or vegetable stock and corn starch) and chose the protein we wanted (I picked salmon, Suz picked Wagyu beef). Then we made the weirdest thing: mochi. It’s this funny, super-sticky dough made of sweet rice flour, coconut milk, water and sugar. You microwave it and stir the hell out of it and then, while its warm, shape it into dumplings or ravioli-type shapes and pop a piece of filing in the center (we used chocolate, green tea gelee and red bean paste) and wrap ‘er up, Then you let them cool and you eat them! That dough was one of the weirdest textures I’ve ever worked with — stretchy, hot, SO STICKY – but it was good!
While devouring the results of our class, we met Food & Beverage Director Fabio Petrone, who is one of the most charming staff members we encountered at Cuisinart. So friendly, so funny, always wanting to know if we were enjoying ourselves, always offering us something or other. He oozed charm and hospitality!
After our lunch, we finally hit the beach. Seriously? This is real – it’s THIS beautiful. The staff will set you up with an umbrella, lounge chairs and towels and chilled bottled water, and every afternoon about 3 or so, they stroll the beach with trays of sorbet and these amazing little pistachio biscotti. Aahhhhh.
And I think you know we got THIRSTY on that beach! My drink of choice wound up being the Frozen Mojito, made with tons and tons of fresh mint, from the hydroponic farm. And it wasn’t over-sweet, either (the downfall of many a Mojito). And the bartenders at the Beach Grill, Sam and Karen, were terrific (sometimes sharing “over makes” with us from the blender, so we could try different drinks).
I will say we took yet another cooking class on our last full day, with a lovely Caribbean chef named Diane, and we made a delectable lunch of Punpkin Soup, Creole Mahi Mahi (normally she uses Red Snapper, but that was out of season) and Pineapple Upside Down Cake, and while it was fun, it was a four-hour endeavor and we were kind of jonesin’ to get to the beach, but we did have fun.
Overall, I give Cuisinart Resort one million stars, for getting it all right: a beautiful, beautiful resort on one of the most gorgeous and friendly Caribbean islands I’ve been to AND a fantastic focus on food. You should go. Like, now. Thank you to everyone at Cuisinart for a perfect vacation (which I paid for – full disclosure – with the exception of the private hydroponic tour and Japanese cooking class, thank you very much to Cuisinart for those two special experiences.)