“Remember the past but look forward to the future” were the words spoken by St. Croix Food & Wine Experience committee member, Jane Watkins. This statement emphasizes the way A Taste of St. Croix – A Food & Wine Event continues to cultivate St. Croix. With 2000 guests, 100 volunteers and 52 participants that ranged from restaurants to local caterers and beloved confectioners, this year’s 15th Crystal Anniversary combined a multitude of culinary talents with the strong connections of the Cruzan community that includes local farmers & fishermen as well as distributors, schools & various local nonprofits. Since the inception of this event fifteen years ago, the culinary landscape of St. Croix has grown, shifted and evolved into one of worldwide recognition, attracting thousands of visitors to the territory with each passing year.
A Taste of St. Croix non-profit organization hosts this event each year in efforts to raise funds for the St. Croix Foundation – a nonpartisan, nonpolitical community foundation that serves the U.S. Virgin Islands in areas of education, historic preservation, community & economic development, public safety and fiscal sponsorship of smaller nonprofits. It serves as a platform for many local restaurants & businesses on St. Croix to showcase their culinary talents and secure bragging rights for a year if they win in any of the 8 categories judged at Taste. Categories include appetizer, entrée, soup & stew, local fare, dessert, vegetarian, beverage & people’s choice.
Here are 3 things that made A Taste of St. Croix a top-notch culinary affair that every aspiring foodie should experience:
Locally Harvested Foods
As attendees journeyed from one table to the next, it was clear what the underlying theme of this year’s event was – locally harvested foods! Locally grown pumpkin, sustainable seafood, organic fruits & vegetables were showcased amongst festive displays featuring coconuts and palm branches as well as fresh local flora like hibiscus, bougainvillea & the official USVI flower, the Ginger Thomas. Many participants did their own take of a pumpkin soup where some paired it with curry and coconut milk while others added some lobster or flour dumplings for some texture. The Bistro, located in Gallows Bay, Christiansted wowed judges and was declared the winner of the soup & stew category with their pumpkin soup featuring a breaded red pepper & green onions!
At every turn, the local Cruzan culture was apparent whether in the form of food presentation, coordinating cultural wear of participants or the numerous local farms and distributors represented. In an effort to encourage participation this year, Taste of St.Croix non-profit organization offered $500 in mini grants to participating restaurants where they received $200 upon registration, $250 after prizes were awarded at the end of Taste and a $50 gift certificate to use at the farmers market sponsored by the Virgin Islands Agriculture Department. Not only were they cultivating culture through agriculture and fishing but through cultivating students as well. Many participants also featured young students eager to learn the culinary craft. Camisha Lynch, certified chef & instructor at St. Croix Central High School entered her culinary arts class into the competition “to get a fun opportunity to see different foods and look at the different skills that we have on the island.” Her students prepared a chocolate diamond filled with a fresh strawberry guava mousse along with a vegetarian fried rice and veggie kabobs which won 3rd place in the Vegetarian category.
A Bounty of Beverages
Locally brewed ales, handcrafted cocktails & Cruzan curated drinks were all the rage at A Taste of St. Croix. While there were a wide variety of fine wine & spirits available to attendees, the beverages made by various participants stole the show. Locally made peanut punch from Ace’s Roti Shop offered a sweet, creamy texture for guests where one person mentioned their dislike for peanuts but would “gladly drink a gallon” of the peanut punch. The potent libation that knocked guests and judges off their feet (almost literally) was from the new kid on the block, Zion Modern Kitchen. The complete ingredient list for their drink recipe is still unknown but hints of hibiscus, lime, mint & passion fruit were left on the palate. Guests will just have to head over to King Cross Street to coax their chef/mixologist, Frank Robinson, into giving up the details!
St. Croix has been doing “farm-to-table & “slow food” before it ever became the marvel that it is today. A Taste of St. Croix highlighted these trends and so much more as guests sampled a variety of entrees, appetizers & beverages on the Divi Carina Bay Resort property. A great time was had by all as guests made their way to the Starlite Grille to dance the night away at the event’s after party sponsored by Hennessy. One first-time guest of the event said, “I’m usually off island when Taste happens but I’ll be sure to plan my travels around it next year because I truly had a marvelous time.” That’s reason enough for you to clear your calendar and setup a savings fund for the 2016 St. Croix Food Wine Experience! See you next year!
Q the Cruzan Foodie