Food

Take a Seat at Nicole's Table

Enjoy a Caribbean Culinary Adventure in Antigua

Bahamas/Caribbean
|
By
Adam
Dennis

WITH THE ENTIRE house now sparkling clean, Nicole steps away from Caribbean foods in the kitchen and moves outside on the veranda to cool off amid the potted plants and dark wood patio furniture. A gentle breeze greets her, as she looks down at the pink and purple flowers blooming on the foliage in her lush, tropical garden.

Nicole's Table | Caribbean foods | Marinalife

She lets her eyes meander across the view from her mountain-top home in Antigua. Facing west to the landscape below await the Caribbean Sea and Port of St. John. On a clear day, the islands of Montserrat, Nevis and St. Kitts appear in the distance.

Nicole relishes one last look at the breathtaking view and returns inside, knowing that her guests will arrive soon. Most will dock at English Harbour, Jolly Beach Harbour or Dickensen Bay and take a taxi or rental car up the hill. All of them will be eager to learn the secrets of Caribbean foods in the comfort of her home. They will meet Nicole's family – husband Adam and daughters Emily and Zoe -- who are on hand to enhance the friendly teaching environment and unique foodie experience that awaits.

The Food Was Just the Beginning

Nicole's Table was created to introduce visitors to local Caribbean foods, culture and lifestyle. We started our cooking classes, because I love Caribbean foods and flavors. I wanted to give people a relaxed setting where we could prepare our meal, learn about cooking from one another, and share stories whatever they might be, says Nicole.

Following in her family's culinary footsteps, Nicole began working at her parents' restaurant in Plymouth, Montserrat, when she was young. Years later, she served as a private chef for an estate home on the exclusive island resort of Jumby Bay. Nicole inherited a love for cooking from her mother, Pam, who is known for quick casseroles and hot sauces. Nicole built upon traditional island cuisine to craft her own style of Caribbean twist cooking that embraces decadent desserts, flavorful condiments and healthy ingredients.

Rum tasting | Caribbean foods | Marinalife
Rum tasting

Officially launched in 2015, Nicole's Table opened with four menu options: All about Jerk, Cooking with Rum, Coordinating Curry and From the Sea. Those menus, which are still available today, cover a range of dishes created by Nicole and inspired by the island's cornucopia of fresh seafood, meats, herbs and produce.

The first year for Nicole's Table ended on a high note with TripAdvisor awarding her first Certificate of Excellence. Each year, her unique teaching style and innovative recipes resulted in new certificates culminating in a 5/5 rating and TripAdvisor's rare Hall of Fame designation. She received similar accolades from other review sites, coverage from international media, and even landed a feature on the British cooking show Caribbean Kitchen, hosted by Ainsley Harriott. Nicole's Butter Rum Cake gained a fan base from that show, with guests requesting the recipe (see p. 89) and Chef Ainsley presenting it in his new cookbook.

A Very Caribbean Experience

At Nicole's Table, a typical day starts just before 11:00 a.m. with Nicole and Adam greeting guests, serving cool water or a local juice as a refreshment, and giving a short tour of the main living area and veranda. The house's high cathedral ceilings and open style breed comfort, while the huge veranda offers a stunning view, comfy couches designed to help you unwind and a long wooden table for family-style dining.

Class kicks off with everyone washing their hands and tying on an apron, as Nicole explains how the day will unfold. Nicole then guides everyone to prepare lunch chopping, cutting, and blending whatever is necessary to make a fantastic Caribbean meal. There is no shortage of laughing over stories from Nicole about growing up in the islands or the many entertaining names West Indians give their food. Guests tell their own tales, in a little time, a group of strangers become a gathering of friends.

Close up on dishes | Caribbean foods | Marinalife
Caribbean foods

I love exchanging stories with my guests. I learn as much from them as they do me, and I treat everyone the same way I do my friends when they come over to cook with me, says Nicole. A recent guest remarked, We had the most wonderful day at Nicole's Table. She was welcoming and brought everyone in, whether they were experienced or beginners. She shared her knowledge, her home, and the best meal we had on the island.

Along with the cooking experience comes the ever-popular rum tasting. Guest sample rums from six different locations across the Caribbean and Central and South America. The goal is to taste the subtle differences among two rums each from French, English and Spanish countries.

When all the food has been prepared and cooked to perfection, lunch is served family style on Nicole's veranda, where guests indulge their senses in Caribbean life the gentle breeze, spectacular seaport view, friendly banter, storytelling, and of course, the sweet and savory flavors of the islands. The rest of the day is filled with laughter as new friends enjoy the fruits of their labor.

To learn more, review Nicole's recipes and plan your own Caribbean culinary journey, go to NicolesTable.com or find Nicole on Facebook under NicolesTable.com

Nicole's Butter Rum Cake

The Cake

Ingredients

½ cup chopped walnuts

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ cup butter

3 tablespoons plus

½ cup vegetable oil

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cups cornstarch

4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 ¾ oz box instant vanilla pudding (yes, really!

)¾ cups whole milk4 eggs

¾ cups dark rum

1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 F, generously grease and flour a 10 cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle chopped walnuts on the bottom of the prepared pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl whisk together the wet ingredients: eggs, milk, rum, vanilla extract and ½ cup vegetable oil. Cream the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Slowly add the dry ingredients along with 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Mix on medium-low speed until the mixture looks like sand, about 1 minute. Add the pudding packet and beat on medium speed until combined. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl. The batter should be smooth, and it will be thin. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. About 10 minutes before the cake is finished baking, start making the rum syrup.

Rum Syrup

Ingredients

½ cup butter

½ cup water

¾ cups granulated sugar

1 teaspoon salt

½ cup dark rum

In a saucepan with high sides combine butter, water, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the syrup because it can boil over. Remove the syrup from heat and slowly stir in the dark rum.

Let the cake rest for 10 minutes and turn it out to loosen it from the pan. Return the cake to the pan and slowly pour 1/3 of the rum syrup over the bottom of the cake. Use a skewer to poke small holes in the cake to help the syrup seep into the cake, let the cake sit for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto the serving platter and slowly pour the remaining rum syrup over the cake, making sure to do it slowly so the syrup is absorbed and does not run down the sides of the cake.

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The beach at Fleming Villa | Source GoldenEye

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In the pursuit of rum perfection, I’ve noticed that a well-designed label can give clues about what awaits inside the bottle. Many simply present the distiller’s name and location where a rum derives its unique flavors. But it’s hard to resist the image of a crusty old captain, pirate ship or sassy sea wench when pouring a hefty splash into a tumbler.

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THE SPY WHO LOVED JAMAICA

James Bond Dr No Poster Credit Flickr

Our story begins in 1939, when a London journalist named Ian Fleming joined the British Navy Intelligence Service. His unit specialized in military espionage and covert plans to thwart German aggression in Europe and the Caribbean.

During World War II, Fleming was engaged in Operation GoldenEye, and in 1942 he was sent to investigate suspicions about Nazi submarines in the Caribbean. During this deployment, he became enamored with Jamaica and vowed to live there some day.

When the war was over, Fleming returned to Jamaica and bought 15 acres of plush land that was once used as a donkey racetrack. In 1945, he built a house not far from the banana port town of Oracabessa Bay, and the seaside property became Fleming’s tropical sanctuary where he could focus on writing and the discrete task of taking previously tight-held secrets into a public, fictional genre.

He named the estate GoldenEye as a tribute to his Navy service and began working on a book that evolved around the dashing spy and Special Agent 007, James Bond. This protagonist would emerge as the amalgamation of agents he’d met during his maritime service. As an avid birdwatcher, Fleming took the name for his lead character from American ornithologist James Bond, an expert on Caribbean birds, who wrote the definitive field guide, Birds of the West Indies.

Fleming’s first spy novel, Casino Royale, was published in 1952. This book and all 13 in the James Bond series were written in his bedroom at GoldenEye. Three of them — Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and The Man with the Golden Gun — take place in Jamaica.

STIR IT UP

Chris Blackwell | Credit GoldenEye

Not only did the breezy island life at GoldenEye inspire Fleming’s novels, but so did his fetching neighbor, Blanche Blackwell. She was the muse who helped spark his creative drive. The Blackwell family had lived in Jamaica since 1625, exporting bananas and coconuts and crafting a distinctive brand of rum.

Blanche’s son Chris Blackwell grew up between England and Jamaica, and in his childhood spent a good amount of time with Fleming. In 1954, after Blackwell got booted from an elite British school for rebellious behavior, he came back to the island to get involved in the family rum business. Contrary to plan, he followed his instincts and made a career choice that would dramatically alter the global music scene.

For a while, he kicked around working as the aide-de-camp to the governor and as a waterskiing instructor. But after hearing the blind pianist Lance Heywood play at the Half Moon Resort, Blackwell recorded the musician, and in 1959 he launched a music studio called Island Records. In sync with his unconventional style, it became known for discovering and nurturing innovative performers who had been shrugged off or overlooked by bigger record labels.

Island Records introduced the world outside of the Caribbean to Bob Marley and the Wailers and Jamaican reggae music, showcasing island culture and universal struggles of indigenous people. It launched British bands such as Traffic, Bad Company, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Roxy Music, King Crimson and Fairport Convention. It also cultivated artists such as Cat Stevens, Brian Eno, Grace Jones, Marianne Faithfull, Tom Waits and the Irish band, U2.

Throughout his success in the music industry, Blackwell remained in contact with Fleming and his projects. When the first Bond movie, Dr. No, was filmed in Jamaica in 1962, Blackwell was hired as a location scout and consulted on the soundtrack. Sir Sean Connery, whom Blackwell had met during the filming of Dr. No, remained a friend until his passing in 2020. Using a family recipe, Blackwell launched his boutique rum in 2008 that is distributed around the globe.

Live and Let Die was filmed in 1973 on the Blackwell Estate, which now includes The Fleming Villa. Scenes from the movie were shot near GoldenEye, Blackwell’s luxury hotel in Jamaica. The latest Bond flick, No Time to Die, returns to the exquisite Jamaican backdrop of GoldenEye, and the production team was treated to a supply of Blackwell Rum for inspiration while filming.

TO CELEBRATE 60 YEARS OF JAMES BOND, a special bottle of Blackwell Rum has been released, along with a new memoir by Chris Blackwell, The Islander: My Life in Music and Beyond. If you’re cruising around Jamaica this winter, cue up some Bob Marley tunes, open a bottle of Blackwell’s 007 Rum, and shake it (don’t stir) with pineapple juice and ice to create the GoldenEye Cocktail. And if you’re nestled in at home in a colder climate and dreaming about the Caribbean, we suggest watching a Bond flick and warming up with the Toasted Toddy.

GoldenEye | Credit GoldenEye

GOLDENEYE COCKTAIL

INGREDIENTS:

-1 part Blackwell Rum

-1 part pineapple juice

-Lime or pineapple wedge

INSTRUCTIONS:

Shake together and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with lime or pineapple wedge

Toasty Toddy | Credit GoldenEye

TOASTY TODDY

INGREDIENTS:

-3 parts Blackwell Rum

-2 teaspoons brown sugar

-1 1⁄2 parts fresh lemon juice

-6 parts boiling water

INSTRUCTIONS:

Add all ingredients to a mug, except for the water. Pour in the boiling water, Stir well to blend

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