Local chefs showed the world what they’re capable of Thursday night at A Taste of St. Croix at the Divi Carina Bay Resort. Guests sampled bite-sized delicacies from 48 restaurants, farms and caterers at the annual event that benefits the St. Croix Foundation.
Over the last decade A Taste of St. Croix has established itself as not just one of the premier occasions in the territory, Forbes Traveler has named it one of the top 10 international food and wine events in the world.
Foodies from the United States and abroad flock to the island to get a taste of what St. Croix can cook up, and tickets for the event usually sell out within hours.
But despite the international attention, A Taste of St. Croix remained a thoroughly local affair with the spotlight firmly set on the foods our territory produces and the chefs who call it home.
Benjamin Ruth, a chef at Eat at Cane Bay, said he believed the local food scene was worthy of the hype.
“At every restaurant, you’re not going to see the same thing,” he said, emphasizing that the wide range of local ingredients allow chefs to experiment with different and unique dishes throughout the year.
“This island brings a lot of creativity to the people who work here,” he said.
Eat at Cane Bay was just one of the established high-end restaurants represented. The Galleon, Salud Bistro and the Blue Water Terrace all had their own tents. But equally well-represented were smaller restaurants and startups.
Khaled Hasan, owner of the Darna Grill, a food truck that sits in the parking lot of a gas station on North Shore Road, drew a large crowd with his homemade hummus and falafel.
Hasan said this was his first year at A Taste of St. Croix and he was happy to share his food with a wider audience. He said Middle Eastern cuisine is only just starting to find a foothold in the St. Croix restaurant scene, but the more locals try it, the more they fall in love with it.
“Once they taste it, they come back again and again and again,” Hasan said.
Christina Murphy was also looking to boost her fledgling business at her first appearance at Taste, although Murphy was peddling a food Virgin Islanders are a bit more familiar with. Tiny cupcakes of every color of the rainbow were lined up along her display table, tempting more than just a few guests to skip the entrees and go right to dessert.
Murphy said she started her dessert catering business, Dulce Cupcakery, just last year, but she added she’s been cooking her whole life. Murphy said she doesn’t have a retail storefront yet (with a heavy emphasis on the yet), but if the crowd’s reaction to her cakes are any indication, she’ll be opening shop soon.
One especially excited diner cut into our interview to testify to the moistness of Murphy’s cakes.
“It’s like I’m biting into a strawberry,” she said.
The event even managed to carve out some space for groups to talk about local issues on the island. The Light House Mission, which provides meals and services to the homeless, had their own tent and treated guests to both dinner and information about their mission.
William Cole of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources was on hand preaching the importance of responsible fishing practices and warning of the impact of the lionfish infestation in the territory’s waters.
At his booth Cole had a recipe for lionfish ceviche on display, but unfortunately no samples. When asked why, he chuckled and said, “I don’t have my food handler card.”
The island’s farmers also got their turn in the spotlight with the ArtFarm, Ridge to Reef Farm and Sejah farms all offering probably the freshest food at the event.
Shelly Brin of Ridge to Reef Farm said the hardest thing for local farmers was to sell indigenous foods to customers with international palates. She said too often people’s cravings for Italian, Chinese or Mexican food make them overlook the Crucian food available around them.
As to the quality of the local fare, Brin let her dishes speak for themselves: seasoned moringa pods and fresh-off-the-boat Mahi ceviche served over cassava cakes.
“The quality of the food provides the quality of the experience on St. Croix,” Brin said.
At the end of the evening, the event’s panel of local and celebrity judges announced their favorites. The winners are as follows:
Runner up: Tutto Bene Restaurant
Winner: Tutto Bene Restaurant
First: Maria’s Cantina
Second: Schooner Bay Marketplace
Third: Tavern 1844
First: Schooner Bay Marketplace
Second: Salud Bistro
Third: Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture
Soup and Stew
First: Palms at Pelican Cove
Second: Rowdy Joe’s Northshore Eatery and Eat at Cane Bay (tied)
Third: Tutto Bene Restaurant
First: Empress Fresh Foods
Second: Salud Bistro
Third Darna Grill and VI Cupcakes (tied)
First: V.I. Cupcakes
Second: Light House Mission
Third: Ridge to Reef Farm and Edwin Thomas Catering (tied)
First: Virgin Islands Department of Agriculture
Second: The Galleon
Third: Rowdy Joe’s Northshore Eatery
Second: Blue Water Terrace
Third: Empress Fresh Foods