Modern Caribbean food is not rooted in a single ethnic history. In the same way that Australia's “cuisine” has come about by traditions colliding, it's been centuries of cultural sharing that’s made the cuisine what it is today.
Melbourne’s Steph Harris and Charlie Rankin run Saint Lucia, a barbecue restaurant in Windsor that showcases the grit of Caribbean cuisine. It's by no means a Tiki bar — the concept was born out of an extended trip to the Caribbean islands where the duo was immersed in Caribbean food traditions, consulting chefs who still collaborate with them.
In order to fully appreciate Caribbean barbecue, understanding the region’s cultural history helps. "There's a social, 'by the beach' culture there," says Rankin, which has allowed for centuries of refining barbecue techniques.
But it’s impossible to omit the impact of the slave, spice and silk trades — the most painful chapters of the region’s history are still ingrained in everyday life, seen especially in its cuisine. People from Africa, Europe and Asia brought their food habits to the scattered islands and as a result, there has been a major fusion of cuisines.
The many roots of Caribbean cuisine can be seen by scanning Saint Lucia's menu: there's goat's cheese with piquillo sauce (Spain), ceviche (South and Central America), plantains (Africa) and coconut braised goat tacos (Mexico and India). Soft-shell crab, fried chicken and spiced pineapple make an appearance, too.
"Weird, exotic ingredients generally aren't used. They’re all simple ingredients we're familiar with. But they’re all put together in an interesting way, using different techniques," says Harris.
Mainland America has been honoured via the calorifc mac ‘n’ cheese doughnuts: breaded, fried macaroni patties that you dip into a chilli cheese sauce.
The Caribbean classic of Jamaican jerk chicken is arguably the restaurant’s star dish, available as a main, a taco or in a waffle cone replete with charred corn, candied chilli, toasted coconut and lime mayo. Pork ribs come with bajan, a pepper sauce "used more than ketchup in Barbados", according to Rankin. If you're ordering the vegetables, you'll get a taste of trini green sauce, a take on salsa verde that’s only found in Trinidad.
The beef brisket requires a few days’ preparation: it’s rubbed, then rested, then smoked for ten hours and braised overnight. Similarly with the jerk chicken, the process is multi-step: it needs to be brined, marinated, charred and roasted.
And woods are chosen with discernment: "Experimenting with wood from different trees imparts a different aroma into the food," says Harris. Mesquite gives it a smoky, earthy taste and fruit woods such as cherry, apple and apricot make everything a touch sweeter.
For drinks, there's a large library of Caribbean rums on offer — and it should be treated like fine scotch. But for those unable to palate spirits straight up, there's earthy, sweet rum punch with nutmeg and fruit juices. Saint Lucia is the only place in Australia that does Jamaica's Red Stripe beer on tap and there's also rum-based espresso martini.
Harris and Rankin have decked out the restaurant with trinkets and objects collected from previous trips. "We've made use of the bold colours we saw all over the Caribbean,” says Harris. “When you enter Saint Lucia, you're briefly taken on holiday to the Caribbean.”
Saint Lucia is open Tues to Fri, 5pm–late and weekends 4pm–late.
78 Chapel Street, WIndsor VIC
The secret to Shane Delia's fried chicken is that sweet paprika coating. With a barbecued corn salad, this dish is where the texture, sweetness and smoky crunch all collide. #RecipeForLife