Eating Well in Dominica

by Editor
Zing Zing Restaurant at Secret Bay

By Diana Ballon

This lush, volcanic-dense island in the Eastern Caribbean is the nature lover’s dream. Dominica is remote enough to be underdeveloped and difficult enough to navigate to make quiet forays through hiking trails and underwater diving, a placid exercise in mindfulness.

Part of the “local” experience on this island also means enjoying the abundance that surrounds you. With heavy rainfalls and volcanic-rich soil, exotic fruit and vegetables are plentiful here in Dominica.

Two luxury resorts on the island use this local produce, along with freshly caught fish, seafood, and other proteins sourced from Dominican farmer’s markets and fishers, along with their own culinary genius, to take dining to the next level.

Secret Bay

After a 12-hour travel day, I know what it means to feel transported when I sit down under a canopy-style roof at Secret Bay’s fine dining open-air restaurant, Zing Zing, to await a cocktail and a five-course meal. Tibay Beach lies below us, the ocean beckons and a soft breeze blows up from the coast.

“The people that come here, they want to travel, but then I want them to travel with the food too,” says their new executive chef Aurélien Bulgheroni, of the experimentation he uses to give local products a sense of newness on a menu that changes daily.

With limited ability to import, “we need to be a bit magician,” says Bulgheroni. That means using local ingredients available to them—like plantain, banana, grapefruit—and preparing them with various textures, whether this means roasting, puréeing, or frying them. His cooking reflects a Mediterranean style with local ingredients, whether it is in using pumpkin and bell peppers for ratatouille, gnocchi for sweet potatoes, or local fish like mahi mahi, red snapper, and lionfish.

Chef Bulgheroni was born in Monaco and grew up in the neighbouring town of Menton. But he has spent the last five years in Guadeloupe, three of which were at the island’s luxury La Toubana Hotel and Spa, so he is used to working with Caribbean product. With a predominantly Dominican team, he looks to them for ideas about local dishes and also teaches them his own culinary skills: there is no cooking school in Dominica.

For dinner, we begin with head bartender Dayne Kyle Alexander’s stand-out signature cocktails: for me, “Strengthening Bonds,” a delightful combination of sweet and sour with white rum, peppermint, ginger wine, and ginger ale. Then the feast begins—a multi-course meal that starts with bread and marinated olives and includes a snapper fish soup, a refreshing passionfruit, pineapple and basil juice as a palate cleanser, grilled tuna on a bed of coconut rice, and delectable chocolate dessert with homemade ice cream.

Each day the meals feel no less exotic, even for Dominica. We enjoy breakfasts on our porch cooked by our dedicated in-villa host. Then lunch is at Botanica, their open-air vegan restaurant, cooked by sous chef Jenefer Marcos Espero. Before lunch, we get a tour of the garden, which showcases products Marcos uses in her cooking, everything from eggplant to beetroot, strawberries, coriander, bay leaves, cocoa bean trees, cabbage, and shadow beni, a herb that tastes a lot like cilantro. 

Other dining options here include a picnic lunch at Secret Bay (their water-access-only beach), a private chef experience at your villa, a bonfire dinner on the beach, and in-villa cooking classes like learning how to de-spine lionfish. Plans are also underway for a new two-storey building, Bwa Denn, slated to open this summer. It will include a casual gourmet restaurant, full-service bar, kombucha microbrewery, and cutting-edge wine cellar.

Coulibri Ridge

Built on more than 285 acres on the south coast of Dominica, Coulibri Ridge masterfully blends luxury and off-grid sustainability. This combination is reflected not just in its design, its lush 360-degree mountain and ocean views, but in its food offerings as well.

According to the resort’s executive chef, Damien Mason, about 20 percent of the local produce comes directly from the gardens on and around the property, and another 80 percent comes from farmers and fishermen on the island. 

“Sustainability is not just [about] growing and producing all we need. It also means using the local farmers and fishermen who assist in growth and sustainability on the island,” says Mason, himself a native of Dominica, with about 20 years experience working in Barbadian resorts.

Breakfast at their Mesa restaurant is a particularly lavish affair that begins with a “pre-breakfast” that includes fresh fruit, granola, or chia pudding using coconut milk, and fresh mini croissants, mini banana muffins, and mini egg muffins. As well as international breakfast items, they also offer a Dominican breakfast with smoked herring or sautéed cod, fried cinnamon plantain, sweet potatoes with pumpkin salsa, and traditional “roasted bakes.” Vegan options include cauliflower omelette with potatoes and shiitake mushroom bacon, swiss rosti potatoes with mushroom ragout, and avocado toast with coconut bacon (baked in maple syrup).

Dinner at their Vista restaurant changes daily and includes curries and popular items like grilled local garlic lobster with pineapple salsa, whole baked red snapper with peppers, onions and local herbs, and breadnut tortellini with tomato puree, candied hazelnuts and almond cream.

Part of Chef Mason’s creativity is expressed in the innovative and varied ways he cooks local Dominican ingredients such as dasheen (a type of taro). Menu items include dasheen tortellini, sweet cinnamon dasheen crisps on sorbet, dasheen coconut rosemary gratin as sides for all meals, and dasheen chips and dasheen corn succotash in a creamy corn coconut soup.

Using the same ingredient in this way avoids waste, as does an invitation for guests to pre-order meals before arriving at the restaurant. There are also many vegan options on the menu, such as their roasted pumpkin risotto with lime zest and toasted pumpkin seeds, sweet potato chia gnocchi tomato puree, coconut bacon, and coconut sorbet and three-spice breadfruit sorbet made in-house.

Images courtesy Secret Bay, Coulibri Ridge and Diana Ballon

Diana Ballon

Diana Ballon is a Toronto-based health and travel writer with a specialty in mental health communications. Her articles focus on wellness, fitness and outdoor adventures and have been published in The Toronto Star, Zoomer Magazine, Best Health Magazine, AARP’s The Ethel, Broadview Magazine, Azure, CAA Magazine, Canadian Cycling Magazine, Daily Hive, Travel Life Magazine and others.

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