A taste of St. Lucia

Steve MacNaull
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With a flick of the wrist, the chef snaps the white sheet off the star of the show.
It’s a 77-pound yellow fin tuna caught just 10 minutes before by a local spear fisherman in the Caribbean Sea.

“Let’s eat cerviche, St. Lucia-style,” declares chef Walter Staib, the culinary ambassador for Sandals Resorts and the host of the four-time Emmy-winning PBS-TV show “A Taste of History.”

Some in our group don’t think the fish can be real, it’s so big and shiny and perfectly laid out as an artistic centrepiece on a bed of crushed ice and greens.

But the celebrity chef cuts a chunk of flesh off just below its tell-tale yellow dorsal fin and deftly knifes it into thin slivers.

The resort cat dropping by unannounced purring for a taste is also a testament that this trophy tuna is the real deal.

Within minutes we’re eating the resulting cerviche — the refreshing raw fish salad made with chopped starfruit, bird pepper, tomato, onion, lime juice and a splash of Appleton Reserve rum.

“Never any salt in this recipe,” stresses Staib. “Lime juice is the new salt.”

Mouths full, we concur, by nodding vigorously and mumbling compliments.

Even the serious foodies in our group are impressed.

As Sandals Resorts guests we’re in the midst of a culinary tour of the southern Caribbean paradise of St. Lucia. We’re also quickly discovering the island nation has a rich, diverse and delicious food culture.

Sandals, which has luxury couples-only resorts throughout the Caribbean, including three in St. Lucia, wants to show all this off with its new Discovery Dining program. The premium resorts have always had the best dining at all inclusives, but forever the innovator, the chain has amped it up even more.

So, under the gazebo by the Paradise pool at Sandals Halcyon Beach Resort, chef Staib continues his lunch cooking demonstration and we continue our devouring.

Next the sauteed allspice chicken-wrapped shrimp in cream sauce with a splash of rum hits the plate.

“The shrimp is already dead when you start with it so you don’t have to kill it by overcooking it,” directs Staib.

We finish sated with with flambe bananas in a caramel and, of course, rum sauce.

Appleton Rum is the official rum of Sandals and the resorts use the spirit liberally not just in tropical drinks, but in the cuisine.

Sandals stay-at-one-play-at-three policy also means you can sleep at one of its

St. Lucian properties and shuttle to the other two at any time to use all the facilities, including the restaurants, bars and buffets.

Speaking of buffets, people tend to either love them or hate them.

Sandals has a score of a la carte all-inclusive restos at its three St. Lucia resorts, so you never have to darken the door of a buffet if you don’t want to. But do make a point of hitting the St. Lucian outdoor buffet to sample the country’s national dish — salt fish with green fig and a side of plantain — as well as regional favourites like grilled Caribbean lobster, johnny cakes, salt cod fritters, goat curry and an array of coconut desserts.

The progressive dinner at Sandals Grande St. Lucian takes us course-by-course through the upscale Gordon’s on the Pier, Bayside and Olde London Pub eateries for lobster salad, lamb shank and bonoffe pie.

Nightcaps and a chocolate buffet, complete with chocolate-covered live model Kimberley Giddeon, follows by the flood-lit pool.

An excursion to the rough-around-the-edges Castries Central Market in the island’s capital city is worth it to spy where Sandals sources a lot of its ingredients.

Our group sniffs and purchases cinnamon, vanilla, saffron, ginger and paprika at the booth of Dorothy “The Spice Lady” Beausoleil; snaps photos of cute little Kayla Edmond eating an orange while her mom runs the family’s fruit and vegetable stand; hears the story of the banana-like plantain that’s used like a potato; and sips coconut water direct from the coconut after Rodins “Boss Man” George machetes them open for us.

We round out the feasts with meals at Kimonos Japanese, where pieces of that aforementioned 77-pound tuna make its way into our sashami, and Armando’s Italian at Sandals Regency La Toc for antipasto, fish cakes and house-made gnocchi.

Between meals there’s plenty of time to lounge on the beaches, hang out by the pools, go snorkelling in the fish-filled clear sea and even check out St. Lucia’s famous twin-peak Piton mountains in the lush rainforest.

WestJet, Air Canada and Air Transat fly from Toronto and Montreal to St. Lucia.

Check out Sandals.com and StLuciaNow.com.

Organizations: Discovery Dining, Sandals Halcyon Beach Resort, Air Canada Air Transat

Geographic location: St. Lucia, Caribbean, Appleton Reserve Toronto Montreal

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