Daniel EchasseriauPhilosophy of perfection

The meat and potatoes of Carlisle Bay’s recipe for success

Chefs, like philosophers and mathematicians, are apparently big on theories. Amid the gleaming chrome and flawless surfaces of the kitchens at Carlisle Bay, where cuisiniers wax lyrical as they baste, blanch and blend, four principle notions abound.One: a chef is only as good as his last dish. Two: a head chef who acts like a drill sergeant causes the food under his charge to taste ‘blocked’. Three: a passion for cooking from an early age can be sensed from the flavour. And four: all the best chefs originate from the countryside.
    These, I am informed with unblinking solemnity, are not hypotheses but facts. And together they comprise the secret ingredients of the internationally acclaimed luxury resort’s recipe for success. Executive chef Daniel Echasseriau’s (right) gusto for gastronomy was born in the pastoral surrounds of Brittany in his native France. “I spent most of my younger years in the garden,” he recalls with a smile. “While my friends were out partying I was always helping my father outside. I learned to get my hands dirty and have a respect for food from watching it grow. We produced all our own fruit and veg, we kept rabbits, chickens, ducks too. We’d make our own crème fraiche, cheese and yogurt from local cows’ milk and we even made our own apple cider and wine.”
    By the age of 15, Daniel had found his vocation. And, if online reviews which declare every Carlisle Bay meal a feat of culinary éclat are anything to go by, his lifelong fervour for food is firmly entrenched in the taste. It’s 26 years since Daniel’s first job at Parisian Michelin star restaurant La Tour d’Argent. “Training at a Michelin star restaurant really teaches you finesse, perfection and a certain discipline too,” he says. Since then, he’s taken his skills to a host of far-flung places including Gambia, Bora Bora and Saudi Arabia before joining Carlisle Bay two years ago. The super-stylish, family-friendly resort offers a variety of dining options that each cut the mustard, from relaxed beachside fare at Indigo, to a delicious Italian-inspired lunch at Ottimo, or a romantic dinner for two at East, famed for its fine Asian cuisine.
carlislebayOptions for those who long to dine with their toes in the sand include a private barbecue or a table for two on the water’s edge. And romance doesn’t get much sweeter than an intimate candlelit dinner on the jetty with the Caribbean Sea lapping gently beneath. “Guests love the fact our food is always fresh and there’s a wide variety,” Daniel continues. “The resort is very open to ideas – they love to see new creations. For me it’s all about the product, learning when and how to get the finest items in each place I work. These days there’s more and more concern about where produce comes from. I love to work with freshly-picked fruit and vegetables and just-caught fish, it makes me really happy.”
    Daily changing specials allow the kitchen teams a chance to flex their culinary muscle and concoct unique creations. Authentic Antiguan meals like goat water are modified and infused with the resort’s je ne sais quoi. Mahi mahi fillets are roasted and served with citrus gremolata, cucumber vinaigrette salad and turmeric mashed potato. Traditional international dishes are given a twist such as the free range chicken breast marinated in pineapple juice, or fish served up on a banana leaf. All preferences, appetites and dietary requirements are equally catered for with ingenuity.
    “One of our most popular dishes is our Caribbean paella which we cook in a huge pan in the middle of the restaurant so people can actually watch their food being created in front of them,” Daniel says. With an abundance of produce easily available, the focus is on seasonal fare. The mango months spawn a plethora of mouth-watering jams, salsas and salads. Tangy passion fruit and creamy papaya add sapidity to sorbets, tarts and ice creams. “I live in Swetes – I call it the jungle,” Daniel laughs. “A lot of farmers live near me and I often buy fruit and vegetables from them at 4am as they leave for market. We also have our own herb garden at the resort. We use a lot of tarragon which is very nice and mild here, plus rosemary, basil, coriander, thyme, chives, mint and lemongrass.”
    Daniel’s sous chef Sebastiaan Seegers, from Holland, likes to draw inspiration from his environment. Formerly based at the five-star Six Senses in Yao Noi, Thailand, he joined Carlisle Bay in March 2013. “I always ask my chefs for ideas for new dishes,” he says. “One came up with green plantain and poached red snapper, with fish-head stock and a tomato and ginger broth with bok choi. We fine-tuned it a little and it’s been hugely popular with our guests. Antigua is a beautiful place to work as a chef. Every new place means adapting to the surroundings and what’s available. Here we are lucky as the ingredients we have to import are minimal.”
Carlisle Bay Antigua cuisine    For Sebastiaan, who has been cooking for 21 years, the greatest pleasure is customer satisfaction. “When making any dish there are around 20 things that can go wrong and that’s the main challenge. I like to get everything right and see my guests happy at the end of the day.” With one of the best seasons on record – and another on the horizon – patrons at the 10-year-old resort certainly appear to be just that. In addition to sublime food, the five-star all-inclusive offers an array of first-rate facilities. They include an award-winning spa, nine tennis courts, watersports, sunset yoga on the jetty, a huge library, garden and rainforest walks, even cookery mastery classes.
    Visitors not occupying one of the plush 82 suites are welcome to make a dining reservation or book a day pass. The upcoming winter season will see a number of improvements including a refurbishment to all bedrooms, and a new beach restaurant, the Jetty Grill. The imminently opening latter will feature daily changing salads and grills, and some interesting wines by the glass. The recent surge in popularity of Asian cuisine, heightened by the fame of places like Tao and Nobu, will see the East menu revamped with the addition of modish sharing platters.
    With competition in today’s dining industry greater than ever, Carlisle Bay chefs know there’s no room to rest on one’s laurels.“You have to prove yourself every single day,” Sebastiaan says. “Your food tastes best when you put your heart and soul into it.” Daniel agrees: “It’s about driving yourself to the max. A chef can never get complacent. In this business, every day is Champions League.” And that’s one more theory that won’t be disputed.

by Gemma Handy

Visit www.campbellgrayhotels.com/carlisle-bay or call (+268) 484-0000 for more information about dining, accommodation or day passes.