Thursday, May 02, 2013    

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Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau show their impeccable instincts about Caribbean food.

The Rousseau Girls... a moniker that has long commanded notice. Sisters Suzanne and Michelle's first venture was style outpost Ciao Bella, where a first-rate collection of hot labels brought in the stylistas in droves. With the boutique, the sisters boldly flashed their retail and taste-making credentials; they are, after all, the daughters of Beverly Rousseau, who gave us Decorator's Corner, which in my mind was and will remain Kingston's first address for interiors. It was not long after the opening of Café Ciao Bella that fashion took a back seat to food and the Rousseau Girls devoted their attention and considerable skills to delighting as restaurateurs and caterers.

Fast-forward 15 years (I know. Surely, it cannot be that long!) and the Food Awards judges are sharing small talk and twice-fried plantain with pico de gallo in the living room of parents Bev and Peter, who give the kind of relaxed "yard" welcome we love. The parents are hilarious; he plays the role of lone male in a household of women with self-deprecating charm; she plays the role of sparky matriarch to hilt, sharp-tongued humour in full flight. But enough about the parents, it's the girls we're here about.

Fresh off a triumphant showing at a farm-to-table dinner hosted at Jakes Hotel, we're told, the Rousseau Girls have a new story to tell. That story is Two Sisters and a Meal, a culinary adventure that manifests as a blog, a soon-to-be-launched YouTube channel, as well as bespoke food events.

True to the fickleness of food, many Food Awards laudees have been one-hit wonders — people or products that start with a bang, and for a year later we wonder what happened to them. The Rousseau Girls won their first award 14 years ago. Enough said.

Suzanne and Michelle laid out a simple meat and vegetables dinner. The meat, from Collin Wright's Farm Pen in Falmouth, was an accomplished grass-fed grilled tenderloin of beef with crispy garlic and Caribbean chimichurri. The produce came from Potosi Farms where Adam Miller and Marika Kessler do God's work in coaxing little miracles from the soil. Rousseau cooking is Mediterranean in technique with a decided adoration of Caribbean ingredients. Throughout the meal there were subtleties and surprises, and all I kept thinking was, "Now, why can't my vegetables taste this good? Why? Why?" Because they are not spicy okra with Scotch bonnet and cilantro (beautiful). My vegetables are not fried lima beans with feta and herb oil (stunning). They are not roasted eggplant with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomato couscous (both sublime). And they are certainly not caramelised fennel and red onions with mint and chevre, which was pure honest cooking, the kind that lets the ingredients take the stage and work the play. The cook is the director, not the star — a lesson which would be well learned by the battery of young chefs, cooks and self-ascribed foodies. Don't overcomplicate it — it's food, not rocket science. The reward, as the Rousseaus succinctly demonstrated, is a riot of flavours and textures, which excite in ways unimaginable. For dessert there was a purist Bombay mango with coconut ginger ice cream and cashew brittle which led some guests to lurk in the kitchen hoping to snag a piece to take home.

"All hail the Rousseau Girls..." is what I wrote in a 1:00 am text to Food Awards ideator, Novia McDonald-Whyte. While it was filled with hyperbole and the light-headedness of the organic wine — Bonterra Organic Pinot Noir (compliments of CPJ), what I was trying to say was, that after nearly two decades of doing this food thing, the Rousseau Girls are even now at the top of their game. That's because of an authenticity and a deep understanding of the pleasures, complexities and simplicities of food, and an unabashed respect for their Caribbean-ness.

— Food Awards judge Odette Dixon-Neath

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