The Spice of Life in St. Lucia

Cacao Pod, chocolate

Saint Lucia is an Aphrodisiac.

Seven times British, seven times French, the temptress of the Caribbean, Helen of the West, wears a lush green mountainous crown, bejewelled by coral reefs and an oasis of tropical fruit and spice.

We peel back the branches of the Emerald Farm estate and enter a Garden of Eden where over 1000 cacao trees flourish, and mango, papaya, guava and banana droop from branches, ripe for our picking. Here, farm-to-table is redefined. These ingredients of Saint Lucia make their way into the island’s exotic rums and chocolates; and today’s harvest is paired with today’s catch: mahi mahi, spiny lobster, conch and lion fish.

Lamb Chops with Cinnamon Sauce, Saltwood Restaurant, Sugar Beach
A culinary patois of British, French and Indian cuisines elevates local ingredients with unique creativity. From the terrace of Jade Mountain, overlooking jungle and sea, we indulge in a tantalizing menu of green banana hash and toasted coconut soup; caramelized onion and breadfruit gnocchi with pumpkin seeds and cashew arugula pesto; and cumin-infused steak with mango souskai and charred chayote. Bold, imaginative flavour combinations excite our virgin palates.

The most seductive allure of Saint Lucia is its chocolate. It seems that every resort is equipped with its own chocolate lab for us to create our own bars. Typically, Criollo and Forastero cacao are used. (Cacao refers to the raw organic matter which, after being ground and roasted, becomes Cocoa.) The quality and flavour profiles of their blends are distinguished by the island’s terroir. It is volcanic. Saint Lucia is pocked with lava domes and craters, and endowed with rich soil that enables vibrant fruit. Its most famous landmarks, the Pitons, are actually two gargantuan volcanic plugs towering out of the sea, looming like gods from every angle and enchanting all, from locals to Oprah. Long ago, Gros Piton and Petit Piton were worshipped as gods of provisions and fertility.

Cacao Sainte Lucie
We follow a road that snakes up a mountain side to Cacao Sainte Lucie. Inside is heaven. There’s no machinery here. All the chocolate is made by hand. I point to the holy trinity of dessert displayed behind the glass: Chocolate Banana Bread. Each of these local ingredients are sublime. The chocolate is warm and gooey; the bananas are out of this world, and the bread—maybe it’s the air, maybe it’s the water, but the bread in Saint Lucia is so addictively nourishing. Sinking into warm, moist, chocolatey, banana-infused goodness, I’m down for the count.

Inside the chocolate lab, I sample exquisite chocolate with notes of fruit from the surrounding orchards as well as hints of cinnamon, nutmeg and bay leaves. I have never tasted chocolate like this before. Ladling semi-liquid chocolate onto a marble table, my task is to temper it and then mold it into a bar to which I then add a sprinkling of cocoa nibs, coconut and sea salt.

What is Cocoa Dancing? At Fond Doux Eco Resort, my host scrapes the skin off a cacao pod into a bucket of water. He calls it “cocoa shampoo,” and tells me if I massage the slimy solution onto my head, my hair will become dark and shiny. I pass. He then pours it into a witch’s cauldron which, in the old days was used for black magic. Then the beans are poured. And then, with hypnotic rhythm, his feet swirl around and around over the beans in a smooth, sliding effleurage. The aim is to preserve the beans during their drying process, remove blemishes, polish them, and enable easier shelling. We observe the whole process, from drying, grinding and extraction to mixing and molding.

Yvonne Layfield, Kako
Yvonne Layfield, Kako
Time for a body scrub! Local esthetician and entrepreneur, Yvonne Layfield, pairs beauty and ingenuity to form Kako organic skin care products, made exclusively with essential oils from ingredients sourced in Saint Lucia. Nutmeg, cinnamon and coffee lip balms, chocolate and coffee body scrubs, oils, moisturizers and hair creams are as nutraceutical as they are aromatic. Layfield’s stunning youthful glow is all the proof I need. I want my skin to look like hers. All her products are customized according to individual allergies and needs, and when considering them, we must ask, “What is it doing for my body?” Nutmeg oil relaxes skin; coffee breaks down toxins; cocoa revitalizes and protects skin from the sun. There is no substitute for nature, and after applying the scrub in the shower and the oil immediately afterwards, there isn’t even a need for moisturizer, because my skin is so smooth and supple, and I smell like an exotic chocolate truffle.

The bean-to-bar experience is fully encapsulated at Project Chocolat, a veritable Piton of chocolate labs. Tucked into the Saint Lucian rain forest, our tour begins at an outdoor bar and food court in which every item is an expression of the ingredients from the surrounding estate. Here, were drink chocolate and rum while indulging in a smorgasbord of cocoa barbeque chicken wings, white chocolate mashed potatoes, cocoa-seasoned burger sliders in cocoa infused buns, and mac ‘n’ cheese sprinkled with cocoa.

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Project Chocolat
Project Chocolat
On a shaded terrace we learn about the unique earthy flavour that fermentation provides Saint Lucian chocolate. We stand at our individual stations with mortar and pestle in hand, and shadow our hilarious and zealously pound-happy guide, Merle. I follow along as best I can to pound cocoa until it becomes paste and my arms become mush. Try as I might, Merle is dissatisfied with my pounding. She takes over to help me out. Step by step I achieve my desired taste and sweetness, mold it into a bar, and then shuffle off to the fields to learn the life cycle and process of cacao.

Beginning in the seedery, we graft our very own cacao plants. There they will stay for six months before being planted somewhere on the grounds. All different kinds of herbs are grown here. We’re told, “Grow what you eat and eat what you grow.” They even have a boutique coffee production in which they dry, shell, wash and hull coffee beans. Back at the food court, we indulge in their beautifully rich espresso while overlooking the fields where the coffee is harvested.

View of Pitons from Jade Mountain
View of Pitons from Jade Mountain
While stretched out in my open-air suite at Anse Chastanet with spectacular panoramic views of the Pitons and the jungle and the sea, silence is carried in the wind. Colours are so vibrant. It’s like the island has been photo-shopped. There’s an occasional call and response of birds in the trees, but otherwise, stillness and quiet. The chef at Jade Mountain’s chocolate lab has created a new bar—60% cocoa. I unwrap it with the giddy anticipation of Charlie peeling the gold wrapper of a Wonka Bar. There’s that distinct, clean snap when you break a piece of a really good chocolate. The aromas, exotic, beckoning, seduce me. My whole palate is immediately enveloped in the luxurious texture of intense but elegant fruit-forward chocolate with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and star anise. These are the flavours of the Caribbean, but sing distinctly of Saint Lucia.

The ingredient base of Saint Lucian cuisine is a great palette to work with. Creole, Jerk and West Indian Spices of cinnamon, ginger root, cloves, nutmeg and allspice are just the base. There are over one hundred spices and herbs used in Caribbean cooking that make each dining experience here dynamic. Adding to those spice combinations, pairings with the island’s fruits and chocolate opens up endless possibilities for harmonious flavour profiles. Saint Lucia is indeed an island of romance. It starts in the garden, is revealed on the plate, and seduces us with aromas and flavours that make up the spice of life.

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