Stefan Spath's Vibrant, Bold and Exotic Reduction

It became for many much more than a memorable meal designed by a culinary genius -Stefan Spath, regional executive chef - Couples Negril, presented two Saturdays ago at 'Wine With Me' a symphony of local delights that not only tantalised the taste buds but cunningly took the mundane like wild thyme and gave it a whole new identity.

The décor spoke to intimacy: soft lighting, cushions, baroque and art deco furnishings, seat suggestions of river stones and mellow piano sounds. It was, we're told by Cecile Levee of 'Wine With Me', the first in a series of Guest Chef Dinners, and artist and chef Stefan Spath would lead the charge.

Guests took a leisurely approach to dinner but by 8:45 pm elegant waiters in black were offering rare seared beef with mango chutney and feta, there were too from Betco Premier Limited (purveyors of fine wines and spirits) suitably chilled glasses of Freixenet Brut Blanc De Blanc. If this was the amuse-bouche there was no doubt in our minds that dinner would provide glorious interludes of gastronome.

Spath himself appeared relaxed and confident, the result perhaps of just having returned from an amazing 12 days in Brazil. With guests now seated dinner commenced with appetisers 'From the Caribbean Waters': lobster ceviche with oranges and shaved red onion, charred artichoke and smoked marlin dip along with rare seared black pepper crusted tuna and ackee-lime aioli. What a start! A willing seduction of flavours and textures: sweet, tangy and smoky.

The soup course - fire-roasted organic tomato bisque with a lemongrass shrimp celery crème fraiche and a dusting of allspice became the finest virgin Bloody Mary with an extraordinary kick that almost rendered the stylish Sauvignon Blanc irrelevant. Could Spath maintain this reckless pace?

It proved a rhetorical proposition as we spooned into the guava and champagne with wild thyme. The ignoble thyme became the conversation piece as we crunched its sugar-coated leaves.

No longer would thyme's sole purpose be the must-have seasoning for a pot of rice and peas unceremoniously discarded once ready for the table. Would the wild thyme upstage the entrée of olive and sun-dried tomato crusted rack of Colorado lamb stacked over sour cream mashed green bananas, roasted pumpkin and mushroom with garlic and flash-grilled pak choy with a tamarind port glaze?

Hardly! It was all too precise and Spath too savvy a chef to be upstaged by the mundane. The vibrant, rich Penfolds Bin 28 Kalimna Shiraz 2004 stood up magnificently against the delicate, pink Colorado lamb and certainly did not mar the subtle splashes of tamarind port.

The final chord was struck when Stefan Spath delivered refreshing but decidedly complex sweet plates of passion meringue pie and toasted coconut panna cotta complete with pineapple mint salsa and bitter-sweet chocolate sauce spiked with aged brown rum, and Betco wines poured Fonseca Bin 27 Port allowing ample swirls of smooth blackcurrant and cherry notes. There was too, for those in need of an additional sweet treat the smoothest broken chocolate served in Martini glasses.

Shame on you if you missed this truly magnificent dining experience. Thankfully there'll be more such culinary delights at 'Wine With Me'.

By Novia McDonald-Whyte Lifestyle editor

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