Style Observer

The West India Table

Sunday, November 05, 2017

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“The interesting thing about dining in Jamaica and across the Caribbean is that across all spectrums of society — harkening back into colonialism — we consume all the same ingredients. In the past and today the method of preparation usually differed based on the availability of cooking equipment, kitchen facilities, and utensils as well as the knowledge and expertise of the cook, so from the great house to the slave yards, cooks of the day all worked with the same ingredients and ended up creating various manifestations of the same ingredients. That still is the norm, we think, no matter where you come from: everybody loves and eats the same things in Jamaica, and we all love these classic dishes that make you think of your childhood or home. So in our work we really try to take those ingredients and those traditional preparations and turn them around a bit by pairing them with some more refined European methods of preparation. We think the way to keep the food relevant and modern is to combine elements of the rustic with the refined. We do that by sharing new presentations of classic ingredients so that there is a very familiar flavour profile and there is a sense of comfort when you are eating, but it doesn't look or present the way that tradition sees it. When you combine that with an elegant, urban setting with very refined tabletop, lovely china, beautiful flowers and good quality wines you end up with a very sophisticated meal that stays true to your roots.

“Over the last 10 years, we've done a lot of research — even more so for our upcoming cookbook — much of which was about going back in time to examine the dining habits of colonial Jamaica. We've really been practising and juxtaposing that with the current lifestyle that we see here and the fact that people are well travelled, exposed and are interested in good food and dining out. We truly believe that one of the most idyllic dining experiences of the Caribbean is that experience of a leisurely country lunch in a beautiful home with a warm, hospitable family. So for us, the inspiration for this was to celebrate classic Caribbean hospitality: a leisurely dining experience where people engage, communicate, converse and connect over the table.

“We also brought into the mix the concept of a French country lunch where the meal progresses in a very paced way with dishes coming out in one after the other (not rushed). The complete opposite to the harried, stressful way that we eat today. Dining is a multifaceted experience; it touches all the senses, and it's important that you don't lose the purpose of what makes sitting around a table and enjoying a meal with friends important — and that is the connection. So we wanted to slow it down and allow people to connect and mingle and talk and share and taste the ingredients individually as they came out. But also, to explore the Gallery and the art that surrounds us. The current exhibitions, The Annabella and Peter Proudlock Collection (July 30-November 4, 2017 – extended until November 26, 2017) — and We Have Met Before: Graham Fagen, Joscelyn Gardner, Leasho Johnson, and Ingrid Pollard (September 22-November 4, 2017) — also inspired us as it looked at some of these traditions and practices but presented them from a modern perspective. It was a fascinating combination of history and modernity, and we wanted to create a dining experience that had both.”

This was the vision of the Rousseau sisters Michelle and Suzanne — having jointly carved out impressive niches in the adjacent fields of catering, restaurant management, cookbook writing and food television production. The sisters returned to the annual Jamaica Food & Drink Festival roster to co-host Brunch at the Gallery, the 20,000-dollar finale of the Caribbean's #1 urban food festival. Six nights and seven events, singular in themes and approaches, and which celebrated 'great spirits, fine foods, live entertainment, culinary mastery and more in Kingston' came to a climax last Sunday afternoon at the National Gallery of Jamaica's Ocean Boulevard address. Culturally inspired, the Rousseaus outdid themselves in coding and retracing the origins of the non-gourmet Jamaican palate and transported brunchers through a culinary prologue of The Rock's world-famous street- and homestyle fare.

The result: a leisurely curated meal of this heritage cuisine — dynamic in its deconstructed earthiness and genteel in its reconstruction — giving a nod to the past yet representing the latest juncture in a shared career that, having spanned 20 years, has produced an eye for detail — plus, a highly anticipated second cookbook.

Duly on board with the Rousseaus' historic re-enactment of our domestic customs paired with the duo's consistent efforts to expand the region's epicurean glossary, SO takes you to The West India Table, an influential game-changer that was as eloquent as it was moving.

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