Sparkling with glamour and glitter, A Taste of St. Croix, the anchor event of the weeklong St. Croix Food and Wine Experience, has matured into a world class event over the last 15 years. According to some of the visiting chefs, Thursday night’s culinary event at the Divi Carina Bay resort was more creative, sophisticated and refined than ever.
“The food and presentations have become more refined,” said Iron Chef, television personality and restaurateur Sam Choy. This year Choy judged local fare and mentioned a memorable jackfruit and breadfruit cheesecake that was “light as air.” Later in the evening, the cheesecake would earn Ridge to Reef Farm an award.
Judges vote with points and don’t know until the numbers are totaled which entrants win.
Tony Castellucci, executive chef for Facebook campuses worldwide, was a first time judge at A Taste of St. Croix this year. He and another judge sampled nine entrees and Castellucci noted “a lot of creativity.” He predicted a Moroccan lamb stew would win first or second place and prophetically Salud Bistro’s lamb stew won first place for entrees.
“They’re raising the bar,” Castellucci said about the culinary competitors.
The Food Network’s Duff Goldman travels around the world and said frequently the cuisine found in small island communities would have been popular 15 years ago in a cosmopolitan area. This is his first year as a judge and he said he sampled “sophisticated stuff” with the creativity and execution found in New York City or Los Angles.
“I’m just trying to figure out how to sell everything and move here,” he said.
It was apparent the chefs and restaurants put out their best food for the judges and the 1,000 or so attendees who sampled lemon grass, coconut curry soup with chicken, Thai pumpkin soup with tuna, conch pates and barbecue beef sliders with coleslaw.
Entrees included mahi-mahi with poached lobster, fresh beet and pumpkin ravioli with duck and Crucian Shepard’s pie with locally grown ingredients for fungi, stuffed with local lamb and greens.
Local distributors supplied guests with wines and other beverages to sip with their food. Other drinks included several flavors of homemade ginger beer, maubi, pumpkin punch, homemade coconut wine, passion fruit rum, jalapeño mango margaritas and pomegranate sake-tinis. Sandy Toes Beach Shack presented Misfit Island Ale, brewed with sorrel, fresh ginger, bitter orange and other ingredients.
Sweet bites in the dessert category included chocolate diamonds, lime and coconut profiteroles, molten chocolate wontons, homemade marshmallows and cupcakes in a dozen flavors.
Clearly the guests appreciated the food. Some vocalized contentment while they ate and others talked about what went into their mouths and pleased their palates.
Ray Dunnett has been attending Taste for the last six years and said he likes sampling new dishes from his favorite restaurants. After he tried a sushi roll at the Dashi table, he sampled fried Brussels sprouts with ginger and peanuts.
“I didn’t know what it was, but I went back for seconds,” he said.
When Dunnett discovered what he was eating, he exclaimed, “I hate Brussels sprouts.”
Sen. Sammuel Sanes said he tries not to miss the event and recommended the homemade marshmallows.
“It’s like a family reunion,” he said.
Fitness gurus Kendall Holmes and Amanda Doering were spotted eating cupcakes. They were taking a break from their healthy diets to enjoy some decadence, they said. Tomorrow they will return to healthy living.
It was after 8 p.m. when Gov. Kenneth Mapp wandered through the crowd sampling bites from restaurants who had not yet run out of food. He said enjoyed everything he tried and couldn’t name a favorite.
The chefs who created the gourmet fare included seasoned and new restaurant owners, caterers, a food cart vendor and a high school cooking class that took third place for their veggie fried rice.
Camisha Lynch, teacher at St. Croix Central High School, said her culinary classes have participated since 2009 and won first place for best presentation that year.
“We usually place. I love for my students to cook and taste unusual food,” Lynch said.
Dulce Cupcake’s owner and baker Christina Murphy said she entered the competition “to interact with my Facebook fans and people I’ve catered for.” Her table was loaded with rainbow colored mini-cupcakes in a variety of flavors.
First time participant Dean Andrews of Ricky D’s Licious Eats said he participated because he loves to cook. He was looking forward to “getting on the stage” and sharing good food.
Another first timer, Alexandra Morris of Baked Café, said she participated because she is a new restaurant and the event gives her “great exposure.” She had a display of light and fluffy sweet pastries including baklava and porfiteroles.
Rowdy Joe’s restaurant has taken part in A Taste of St. Croix for five years, according to co-owner Shari LaVert.
“We like to do it because it’s a great way for restaurant people to get together and have fun in friendly competition,” she said.
The winners of the competition were announced around 9 p.m. and then Pressure Busspipe stepped out on the balcony of the hotel and thrilled the crowd with his hit recording,“V.I. Nice,” and other songs as the Moet and Chandon after party began.
Proceeds from A Taste of St. Croix benefit the St. Croix Foundation and culinary scholarships.
Winners of 2015 A Taste of St. Croix
Appetizer: First place – 40 Strand Eatery; Second – Rowdy Joe’s Northshore Eatery; Third – Renaissance St. Croix Carambola.
Entrée: First place– Maria’s Cantina; Second – Salud Bistro; Third – You Are Here Bar and Grille.
Soup and Stew: First place – The Bistro; Second – Salud Bistro; Third – Seaside Market and Deli.
Local Fare: First place (tie) – Sejah Farm and The Sweet Fairy; Second – Ridge to Reef Farm; Third – Camisha’s.
Vegetarian: First place – Ridge to Reef Farm; Second – Shanti Shawa Vital Ital Experience; Third – St. Croix Central High School Culinary Arts Class.
Dessert: First place – Sandy Toes Beach Shack; Second – Chris Hideaway Sports Bar; Third – Palms at Pelican Cove.
Beverage: First place – Zion Modern Kitchen; Second – Crucian Ice; Third – The Sands Restaurant.
Best Presentation: La Reine Chicken Shack; Honorable mention – Dashi.
People’s Choice: Zion Modern Kitchen.