VIDEO: Salut! The Great West India Supper

Thursday, November 08, 2018

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It was a week packed with eating. The 2018 Jamaica Food & Drink Festival allowed participants to eat their fill of pork, partake of a superb seven-course wine-paired dinner, experiment with Asian food “with a twist”, wash down crispy morsels with delicious beer, test their threshold for spicy foods and navigate a 4,000-person crowd while anticipating eating delicious street food. However, Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau were tasked with hosting the festival's closing event. And that they did with a one-of-a-kind West India Supper.

Over 150 guests got to experience the culinary history lesson held at Jamaica House on Sunday, October 28. The Rousseau sisters have an analytical and historical approach to Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine. According to Suzanne, Michelle is the history buff who regularly delves into early historical cookbooks and treatises to get inspiration. The Rousseaus' West India Supper, an ode to the 18th century planters' banquet, was replete with historical significance and left guests gobsmacked.

The afternoon began with Beefeater pink gin and gin sling cocktails in the reception hall and trips to a welcome table bountiful with appetisers. Guests could choose from an array of modern West Indian fare that included avocado plantain salsa, ackee dip, smoked marlin ceviche, pickled herring flambéed in rum, grilled jerked sausage, glazed ham, aged cheddar, house-made piccalilli, sorrel marmalade, ginger pepper jelly, breadfruit chips, crostini, freshly baked coco bread, and crackers. This was a strong opening and the bar was set high.

The gastronomic experience continued with guests being seated at tables strategically placed throughout Jamaica House's verandahs and courtyard. Five of the six courses were individually plated while the main was served family-style. A customary feature of old world banquets. All courses were paired with wines from Select Brands. The first course was an organic winter greens and arugula salad with candied sorrel, cassava-crusted chèvre, roasted beets and marigold. This was followed by sweet potato gnocchi with mixed herb pesto, smashed organic grape tomatoes and charred Scotch bonnet oil. Then, pan-seared hake with coconut onion soubise, sweet pot herb salad and crispy callaloo. All these dishes led to the meal's crescendo.

The family-style mains comprised Beef Wellington with local mushroom duxelles, Cabernet and peppercorn sauce and charred rack of lamb with ember-roasted rosemary potatoes, golden apple mint preserve, muddled mint sauce and jus. Accompanying the beef and lamb were char-roasted cauliflower with tahini, pepitas and mint; roasted carrots with pistachio, herbs and labne; brown sugar glazed plantain; and callaloo gratin with panko and parmesan. Pâtissière Nadine Burie created the dessert a bean-to-bar mousse au chocolat and almond macaron with vanilla rose gelato, chocolate sponge, berries, tropical coulis and rose petal. The meal ended with a savoury course. Never heard of it? Well, buckle up for a SparksNotes-like history lesson.

Savouries were a much-loved course by the Victorians and Edwardians. Think of them as savoury petits fours or, better yet, “nostalgia on toast”. Savoury has become the “forgotten course”; however, leave it to the historical cuisinières Michelle and Suzanne Rousseau to reintroduce diners to the way things were done for the plantocracy. For the West India Supper the savoury was a perfect small bite made with fried hard dough bread, blue cheese, local cassis and grilled guava.

The Rousseau sisters' embrace of “West Indian culinary evolution” is profound. Modern heritage dining was on extraordinary display as the curtains came down on this year's Jamaica Food & Drink Festival.

As we eagerly await the 2019 iteration we applaud the culinary triumph that was 2018.


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