Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Garden Grows on St. Barts


I’ve spent lots of time in the Caribbean and the French island of St. Barts remains one of my all-time favorites. So when my friend James Jondreau told me he was on his way there, I asked him to keep an eye out for juicy news. James is a chef and serious Francophile who splits his time between New York and the Hamptons. “But if I had my way,” he says, “I’d definitely add St. Barts to that list!” On his last trip, James was lucky enough to stay at the very-tony Le Toiny, where he found an interesting story right under his feet: a chef who’s growing his own produce despite some very strong odds. For more about James, visit his blog CafeJondreau.com or email him at jajondreau@gmail.com. Meanwhile, here's what he wanted to share.

Local is an oxymoron on the chic French island of St. Barts, where virtually all the food arrives by plane from Guadeloupe or France. The tiny island is known as "the St. Tropez of the Caribbean" and its grand super marche is stocked with French cheese, pâté and aisles of Champagne. Nothing grows on the rocky island and there is zero agriculture. So for Hotel Le Toiny executive chef Stéphane Mazières to have a garden, like so many other chefs these days, seemed about as likely as winning the lottery. 

But when Guy Lombard arrived at the five-star Le Toiny three years ago as the new manager, Mazières’ dream began to take shape.

Growing up in France, my parents always had a vegetable garden,” Guy explains. Later he oversaw the garden at Kasbah Tamadot, Richard Branson’s hotel in the Atlas Mountains near Marrakesh. Despite being told repeatedly that nothing would thrive on St. Barts, Guy decided to give a shot. He was determined to keep food costs under control and to improve the quality and supply of herbs and vegetables for Mazières’ exquisitely beautiful presentations.

Together they decide what to grow. Le Toiny sits high on a hill and has a little land leading to a beach where coconut palms once grew and enriched the soil. Rather than the typical glass-enclosed temperature-controlled greenhouses, the duo went with green cylindrical tents commonly known as hoop houses or hoop-style greenhouses. The temperature hovers around 80 degrees in St. Barts year round, so the tents provide protection from the intense sun--and from the ubiquitous, voracious iguanas.

Guy started with one greenhouse and today has three; one is hydroponic and all are organic. They yield a wide range of produce, including tomatoes, lettuce, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers and herbs such as basil, coriander and chervil. Le Toiny’s “garden” now supplies 80% of the restaurant’s herbs and about 30% of the vegetables.

“It definitely save some money,” Guy reports, “but locally we also play an education role as we have school children come over for educational projects such as biodiversity.”

Le Toiny, with 15 private bungalows, is one of the most-exclusive properties on St. Barts.  The island has nearly five dozen restaurants--most of them French--and Le Toiny’s Le Gaïac is considered among the very best.  Mazières was named a Relais & Châteaux Grand Chef in 2010, the only one in North America that year.

If you’re a foodie, you might want to know about Le Toiny’s new Bon Vivant package, good from March 1 to December 19, 2012. The promo includes a four-night stay in an ocean-view villa with private pool and terrace, two one-hour spa treatments, meals at some of the island’s premiere culinary venues and a 90-minute class at Absolutely Wine, a new wine bar and school. The Bon Vivant package also includes round trip airport transfers, a convertible SMART car and breakfast daily. For more info on Le Toiny, click here.

If you’re planning a trip to St. Barts this winter, here are some events that might appeal. There will be a traditional Christmas Village (December 19 to 23, 2011), with a European-style market and festivities at the harbor in Gustavia. The annual New Year’s Eve Regatta (December 31, 2011) is a “just-for-fun” sail around the island, open to visiting and local boats alike. The St. Sylvester New Year’s Celebration (December 31, 2011) offers live music throughout the evening and fireworks on the docks at midnight. And the St. Bart’s MusicFestival (Jan 7 to 19, 2012) features top classical, opera, ballet and jazz. For more info on the island and its events, click here

And whether you’re already a fan of St. Barts or just dreaming of visiting one day, you may want to check out this gorgeous book: In the Spirit of St. Barths by Pamela Fiori, published in April, 2011 by Assouline. You can order it from the publisher here.

Photos: Le Toiny chef Stéphane Mazières; one of Le Toiny's three hoop-style greenhouses; grilled filet of turbot, with home-grown zucchini, oyster tartar, and lemongrass sauce; all Le Toiny villas have private pools like this one; the hotel's private beach.  

7 comments:

  1. Oh, I wish I had read this before I booked our Xmas vacation yesterday. This sounds like a divine vacation and destination Julie. I will definately keep this in mind for next year. XO

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  2. LOVE this post....everything about it. Heavenly St. Barts & great men. What's not to like? ;)

    And what a terrific idea re the garden. I couldn't exist without fresh produce. Love the entire concept of hydroponics....need to investigate that more. Did know a fellow who grew hydroponic watercress on a large scale...fascinating.

    When move to France want to wind up where the water is super clean (Lake Annecy perhaps) and where can have a garden.

    Thanks so much!

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  3. Nice post.I like the way you start and then conclude your thoughts.Vegetable gardening growing your own vegetables has many benefits. It's fun, it's good exercise in fresh air if growing your own vegetables outside, and not least it provides tasty and wholesome food. However there is a price to pay you will have to put in some work.

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  4. I love that this is becoming popular. Top points for effort in such an unlikely place for a vegie patch (it puts mine to shame!).

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  5. Those picture look out of this world.

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  6. Now I have a few more reasons to add St Barts to my must-visit list!

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  7. St Barts is truly the best island in the Caribbean. Will enjoy at least one dinner at Le Toiny over Christmas and NYE holidays this year.

    /Taru

    World Tour Stories. A couple of lovers sailing around the world. Currently spending one year in the Caribbean.

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