Lifestyle

Skylarking for a good cause

Thursday, August 09, 2018

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Just when you thought you'd had jerk everything, chefs Nina Compton and Andre Fowles decide to throw a curveball that makes you reassess your Jamaican heritage. On Saturday, July 28, Compton (and her sous-chef/business partner Levi Raines) and Fowles were guest chefs at a fund-raising benefit dinner held at Skylark Negril Beach Resort in support of the Rockhouse Foundation.

Skylark is the sister property of Rockhouse Hotel and can easily be described as Negril's answer to the bastion of affordable luxury — the Ace Hotel. Chic and well-appointed rooms are funkily decorated in a style that is best summed up as Neo Yardie. The 28 room boutique resort has marvellous staff; each member naturally greets guests as they pass by. They effortlessly straddle the lines between white-glove professionalism and friendliness. Providing a human touch that's devoid of genuflection and focused on connecting with guests as individuals. Well done, Skylark!

Chef Nina Compton is at the helm of two New Orleans restaurants: the critically acclaimed Compère Lapin and the recently opened Bywater American Bistro which she runs with chef/business partner Levi Raines, her Compère Lapin sous-chef. You can tell that these two chefs work very closely together. Covert glances, pas de deux grace, patience and supportive nods reflect how they've built restaurants that have become institutions and some of the best in New Orleans. In March of this year chef Compton was the first black woman to receive the title of Best Chef: South by the James Beard Foundation.

The almost 50 guests at the event saw upclose why chef Andre Fowles has won two Chopped titles on the Food Network and was runner-up in the grand championship tournament. His food is as bright and adventurous as he is. There's an intellectual curiosity that allows him to bring a Jamaican perspective to fine dining techniques.

All three chefs collaborated on the five-course jerk tasting menu that attempted to broaden what is seen as Jamaican cuisine. They succeeded.

The first course of jerk-cured barracuda, papaya and curried carrot purée was extremely appetising. Hard to categorise, and, frankly, we don't need to, the dish was the lovechild of aburi sushi (slightly torched fish) and a crudo. The second course was an avocado (pear) lover's dream. Creamy wedges of pear were drizzled with peppery buttermilk dressing and punched-up with chicken-fried habanero peppers, crisp celery and herbaceous celery leaves. Who woulda thunk that an avocado Caesar salad was a thing?

The third course was a modern take on 'Rasta Pasta'. Jerk oxtail ragu with breadfruit gnocchi was brightened with minted breadcrumbs and had even the vegetarians cleaning their plates. True story. The jerk salt-baked whole snapper with notes of pickled ginger was served atop a dasheen purée. Yes, a dasheen purée. Dasheen, known in other parts of the world as taro (you're welcome), has a lovely purple hue when cooked and pulverised. The purée was earthy and had the perfect glutinous consistency reminiscent of a proper polenta. It was really good. Again, we are coming to realise that many Jamaicans are underutilising local provisions.

The three chefs definitely have a whimsical side and this showed in the dessert — a bowl of stush porridge. Coconut rice pudding was topped with jerk ripe mango and toasted sesame seeds. Delish! Call it porridge, pudding, grits or congee — we all love a bowl of rib-sticking goodness.

“Extraordinary”, “blown away”, “brilliant” and “so many layers of depth” were some of the ways guests described the meal to Thursday Food.

The event raised US$10,000 for the Rockhouse Foundation and will further its work in improving Negril's educational facilities. Most recently the foundation completed an ambitious project — the construction of the Savanna-la-Mar Inclusive Infant Academy (SIIA). The school is the first mixed ability, special needs early childhood school in Western Jamaica. In its first year, 30 three-year-old children were enrolled and, come September, another 30 eager students will arrive.

It was a memorable evening and an excellent display by the recently opened Skylark Negril Beach Resort. The wines, Champagne and cocktails played well with the courses and each other. A note about the welcome cocktail Skylarking. This is not your typical beach resort blue drink. Appleton white rum, Wray & Nephew overproof rum, Blue Curaçao, pineapple and orange juices combine for a potent and delicious cocktail that is the Caribbean in a glass. Have a couple and you'll definitely start skylarking!

The event provided exceptional food, great company and an opportunity to support the children of western Jamaica.

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