Cuisine is often shaped by the land, even when the land provides no resources. Sometime the results are surprising.
Only a few miles off the Caribbean island of St. Martin is the tinier island of St. Barth. On St. Martin, restaurants will most often serve the standard Caribbean cuisine that might include fish, pork, curry, mango, black beans, bananas and splashes of rum.
In the restaurants of St. Barth however, typical Caribbean is less common. The food there is more international with a heavy French influence. French boots stepped on St. Martin too, which is part French and part Dutch, but French-ness, in language and style as well as cuisine, is much more prevalent on St. Barth.
What accounts for the difference? We come back to the land. St. Barth is one of several Caribbean islands developed by an ancient volcano. Though picturesque, the
island is really one big rock in the sea. Not much grows on rocks, especially when there are no natural streams. As a result there was never any agriculture on the island. Consequently there was no need for slaves. Like Les Saintes, an island off of nearby Guadeloupe, St. Barth was settled instead by French fishermen and boat builders, mostly from Brittany and Normandy. The island served as a stopping point for merchant ships on the way to somewhere else. Compared to most other Caribbean islands the population is whiter and talks differently – in contrast to the beautiful Caribbean patois, you will hear the lush French accent.
Chef Phillippe Masseglia of Le Bartoloméo restaurant
Today the island is a tiny, casual-chic touring spot. Its lifeline: small shuttle planes hopping between there and St. Martin’s international airport and a passenger ferry boldly riding the choppy sea. Guanahani Resort & Spa is one of the island’s plushiest destinations. Guests descend from cottages scattered about to a passive beach cooled by the east wind. After hours spent watching waves, dinner becomes a major event. On some nights guests take a taxi to the town of Gustav, which has the nightlife of a Riviera village. Or perhaps they might dine at Guanahani’s elegant restaurant, Le Bartoloméo.
Presiding over the kitchen at Le Bartoloméo is Phillippe Masseglia, a native of southern France. He sees his style as international rather than classically French. “I don’t like the heavy sauces,” he says. “My cooking is more like that of the South of France – which is more Mediterranean.” Guests at the Guanahani hail mostly from France and America. The French are more often looking for the classic gourmet meal; the Americans are more versatile. Appealing to everyone, and certainly reflecting the chef’s penchant for the international, is Messaglia’s classic Lobster and Duck Confit Spring Roll. It is the best-selling item on his menu for good reason – combining tastes of lobster, duck and oyster into a well-packaged roll.
Masseglia shares his recipe to the right. It is challenging, but worth it.
Like most grand chefs, Masseglia cooked in many places, including California, before getting his own kitchen in St. Barth. He likes tropical life, which on some days allows him to go windsurfing between shifts.
Not all the food served on St. Barth is gourmet or French. On a corner in Gustav stands Le Select, a famous bar with an open air dining area. There, a Rastaman cook flips cheeseburgers on the griddle. What makes Le Select famous is that Jimmy Buffett once hung out there and even helped cook burgers. The place is one of several that makes a claim to being the inspiration for Buffett’s song “Cheeseburger in Paradise” though Buffett’s Web site says that idea came from a bar on an island off of Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, yellowed newspaper clippings prove that Buffett was once a regular there. (His fondness for the island is evident in his Christmas song that wishes Merry Christmas, by name, to every state in the South but also adds St. Barth to the list.)
On balmy, blue-skied tropical days, sitting in Le Select’s yard, munching on a cheeseburger chased by a cold Carib beer can be a good way to watch the beautiful people walk by.
A Lobster and Duck Confit Spring Roll in Paradise isn’t bad either.
CHEF MASSEGLIA’S RECETTES DU SPRING ROLLS WITH LOBSTER AND DUCK CONFIT
1 cooked lobster tail
1 duck leg confit
1 carrot, julienned
1/8 white cabbage, julienned
1 oz fresh cilantro, julienned with a small amount set aside for sauce
1 oz fresh mint, julienned with a small amount set aside for sauce
1 piece rice paper, 8 inches long
2 oz rice noodles
Cut the cooked lobster tail and leg of duck confit into small pieces and set aside with the julienned carrot, cabbage, cilantro and mint. Cook the rice noodles and set aside.
Lightly wet the rice paper. Place lobster, duck, noodles, vegetables and herbs in the middle of the rice paper and roll very tightly.
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon kimchee base
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon water
Mix all ingredients together, adding a little of the cilantro and mint.
Place roll on plate and cut into 4 parts. Drizzle sauce over rolls or place in a small container on the side for dipping.