The St. Croix Food and Wine Experience is a week-long series of events that focus on and support the island’s culinary industry. It is also a terrific opportunity to explore this Caribbean island’s impressive cooking. St. Croix is a true melting pot in many ways, and that’s reflected in its diverse cuisine. Seven countries have planted their flags here, and the influence of each — as well as the indigenous people before them — can still be tasted in the varied culinary offerings.
Moreover, the island is blessed with a bounty of produce, fish, and seafood, as well as locally raised cattle, pigs, and chickens. That combination of history, culture, and homegrown ingredients makes for a very rich food scene. This event, now its 15th year, celebrates that richness while raising money not only to further cultivate the industry, but to benefit the St. Croix Foundation, which invests in critical community initiatives.
The centerpiece of the week’s event is A Taste of St. Croix, held beachside during sunset at the Divi Carina Bay Resort. Fifty-two of the island’s restaurants participate in this sampling showcase. Each puts its best foot forward as they’re judged by a panel of celebrity chefs, including Hawaiian legend Sam Choy, Ace of Cakes’ Duff Goldman, and Top Chef fan favorite Tiffany Derry. Recognition for the winners provides at least a year’s worth of bragging rights.
Two thousand people paid $95 to enjoy such savories as lobster with avocado and grapefruit beurre blanc, puffy conch fritters, sesame-crusted tuna, crispy mahi tacos with curried slaw and pineapple marmalade, lemongrass coconut curry chicken-n-dumpling soup, molten chocolate wontons, roasted beet and pumpkin raviolis filled with duck and shiitake caramelized relish, and lobster, shrimp and scallop-filled raviolis in cream sauce with wilted spinach. My favorite, and the first-place appetizer, was the over-the-top Voodoo Shrimp. That’s shrimp and chorizo sautéed in butter with garlic and onion, to which banana is added. It’s set aflame with Cruzan rum, placed atop seven-grain bread, and, because that’s not quite enough, it’s topped with microgreens and a soft-fried egg.
That’s only a sampling. Plenty of wines and spirits flowed as well, and live music played throughout the beautiful evening. A lovely setting, good tunes, tasty food and libations, raising plenty of money for very worthy causes. That’s a taste of St. Croix. What’s not to love?
slideshow: Robert Rosenthal