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Sensations from Seychelles April 2017

Oct 11, 2019

Known Design Co

I believe that things can’t stay still, they need to continually grow and evolve. And so it is with Ginger & Lime. Once the rough concept became a reality, it seemed to have a life of it’s own, on a journey that almost runs parallel to my own life, and I am abAle to detach and observe.

What I fascinates me over and over again is the ability of food and wine to heighten experiences, conversation and life in general.

I, like most others that are passionate about food, am obsessed with Chef’s Table. I savour each programme, digesting every detail, nuance and emotion that each chef awakens in me and then I wait a while in between before I allow myself the pleasure of devouring another episode. Each one is so incredibly unique and each chef has their own story, and I want to hear each one, and dedicate the respect to this person that they deserve for baring their soul to us. They are incredibly brave to do so.

In particular, I loved these words by Francis Mallman, Argentina:
The energy just rolls with us and people from the outside get attracted to this. They feel the magic!
I need a joyous, festive, feeling in my kitchen, with the hours and hard work we do as a team, we must have this.

These echo and ring true for the experience that happens when we host one of our interactive courses. No matter how hard the day has been, or how late the night before was, how sore the back might be, when the guests arrive in the kitchen and we do the welcome chat of how the evening will run, my team and I also feel this incredible energy that seems to carry us through on a high of note. All tiredness, physical and mental, melts away. We work smoothly as one, we dance around each other in the kitchen, and we have incredible fun doing so. We each give our all, every single time, as it should be. Our guests feel this magic, feel this passion and in turn become ignited by it. There is a joyous and festive feeling in my kitchen, which spurs us on to keep giving, to keep doing more to make this experience more than what was expected.

The hours are long, and physically this work is exhausting, so I know I need to recharge from time to time, or there is a huge risk of burnout and throwing in the towel.

Having said that, I am presently in the Seychelles, and I am doing just that. I have not been here before, and what a wonderful experience it is to discover new places and all that they have to offer. How blessed to have this opportunity!

I knew of course that Creole cooking is big here, and that they use a lot of spices and are well known for their aromatic curries. This of course is right up my alley, as there is nothing more satisfying to me than the complexity of a well balanced curry. And then of course there is the ample supply of fresh seafood, being a remote island, which is right up my alley.

I will share some of my experiences with you, but I do want to note that there is a discipline to Seychellois cuisine that I had not expected. Each place seems to offer fairly similar dishes, and they are prepared strictly as the ancestors no doubt have done for centuries. It is bound by tradition and a formula, and certain ingredients that deny experimentation, as if they don’t want any surprises, but are comfortable in the familiarity of knowing what to expect on their plates. Interesting! In a way this is to be admired, as for us from South Africa, we seem to have so many different ways and styles of cooking, that there is not that sense of heritage that they display here (apart from of course the Cape Malay Cuisine, which remains true to its roots).

The curries are mild, and favour turmeric and a blended premixed mild curry powder of the usual kind (coriander, cardamom, cumin, chili, paprika and so on) along with lots of ginger and garlic. When I asked for extra chilli on the side, my request was met with a little resistance, and I actually felt that it was just not the thing to do! I can only imagine the conversation in the kitchen when the request was put through…….. the raised eyebrows, the beautiful Seychellois language expressing firmly just how wrong this was.

On that note, the language is amazing, and the locals really sing when they speak in a very lilting, lyrical way. Seychellois is French, but in a simple, primitive and almost childlike form. Even the spelling seem to be phonetic, and easy to pronounce. I feel it is more Caribbean than African in the intonation and sound. Really charming and beautiful! I have heard no loud voices, and no anger. Just many very white smiles and a pure light shining through the eyes that is wonderful to see. These are gentle people who seem to go through life life at their own pace, in true laid back island style, not in much of a hurry.

Arriving here, and stepping out of the crisp air-conditioned plane, you feel like someone has thrown a wet blanket over you as the humidity hits you. You do seem to get used to it somewhat, as when you are on holiday, and can swim often, it seems okay, and I am not a fan of heat or humidity.
There is a special exotic scent that seems to be in the air everywhere, hard to define, but some vanilla, lemongrass and perhaps a hint of cardamom. Subtle and soothing.

The other thing of beauty to behold is of course the lush thick greenery and vegetation. For those of us coming from the drought stricken Cape, this is a sight for sore eyes!

We arrived at Eden Island late on the first evening by taxi, so had absolutely no idea where we were. Husband was slightly grumpy that no restaurants were open at 10.30pm, but fortunately for us, the wonderful Rosemary from Eden Island had stocked the apartment with breakfast goodies for our stay, so scrambled eggs on toast it was, washed down with a gorgeous bottle of Kevin Arnold Shiraz from duty free. Not too shabby!

We awoke the next morning to the beautiful view of the Eden Island marina and the palm trees outside the window. There is not a thing out of place in this complex, and it is incredibly well maintained. First thing, jump in our own golf cart (Gav loved this the most) and head for a swim at one of the beaches which is right there on your doorstep. Beautiful aqua clear, calm water, postcard perfect. We had now arrived!

Being the adventurous sort, we of course hired a car and headed off to explore the island. Map in hand, we navigated our way to Victoria and then over the most amazing mountain pass to the West side of the island coming out at Port Glaud. When I say hairpin bend, after hair pin bend, I mean it!!! Phew! It was thick tropical jungle all the way, the kind with those monkey ropes hanging down that you would expect to see Tarzan swinging from. The roads are incredibly narrow, and with busses heaving down the other side of the road at serious pace, we were in dire need of a drink once we came down on the other side!

We came across a restaurant right on the beach, and decided to stop for lunch. This was called Le Del Place, Porte Glaud, and has the most idyllic view across to small islands over the crystal clear bay. This little bay, we discovered later, is one of the best snorkelling places on the island. We settled ourselves outside on the wooden deck and sampled the SeyBrew local beer, which slipped down a treat in the heat, have to say, and I am not a beer drinker!

The menu had a mix of Creole specialities as well as the usual burgers and so on for those with less adventurous palates. I decided to have the Crab Curry (crab is my all time best seafood), and Gav had the fresh fish of the day. Mine was superb, and I insisted on cracking every leg, sucking out every piece of that sweet meat, as Gavin cringed and tried to pretend he didn’t know who I was! I was covered in the turmeric based yellow curry sauce, as was most of the table, and needed a shower once I was done! It was delicious, and I loved every morsel. They serve it with a Pumpkin Chutney (baked cold pumpkin that is mashed up with finely chopped onions, thyme, red chillies, coriander, honey, lemon juice and vinegar), coconut chatini, aubergine chatini and Laaaaantils, as they say (lentils). Gavin kept asking them to repeat themselves, as he had no idea what they meant!

My meal of the trip and to be the fresh Palm Heart salad, at La Plage in Beau Vallon. Again a beach restaurant, we sat on the deck right on the beach, with unbelievable views. A really friendly French owner, who clearly took immense pride in his restaurant, explained how the palm heart was delivered whole and then had to be shaved, much like Parmesan shavings, and that the yield per tree was very small. I have to say that I kind of felt bad that a tree had to go simply to supply us with this delicacy, but it was one of the best things I have ever had in my life. It was simply prepared, just with a very light vinaigrette dressing, and a few tomato slices.

Another fabulous dish that they served was the Prawns Saganaki, hardly a purist Creole dish, I know, but worth a mention as it is one of the ones that we have on our Mediterranean course, and I have actually never seen it anywhere else. Man it was good! Plump juicy prawns, creamy tangy melted Feta and rich tomato sauce. Heaven! Must do that one again on our menu.

Beau Vallon is the most popular beach (and yet is was really not very busy at all) where they have a night food market on a Wednesday night which is very famous. We sadly missed this, but if you happen to be there for this, don’t miss it. There are many locals on the beaches, and most bring along copious amounts of food in storage containers and have a picnic under the trees on the beaches. I was dying to sample what they had bought along, as it looked amazing.

We did head into Port Victoria early one morning to go to the food market, one stop I never miss in each new place I go to. Parking is definitely a problem here, and watch out for rush hour traffic, as the roads can become very congested, as generally there is one road in, and one road out. I have to say that the market was a tad disappointing, apart from the super fresh fish (including shark ……. minus the fins) which were really straight from the sea. Not ONE tomato in sight!!! Limited spices that were prepackaged, and definitely more for the tourists than for the locals.

We enjoyed a superb Indian meal at Maharajah Restaurant in the Eden Bay Plaza, that was really worth a visit. One restaurant that we did mean to visit, but ran out of time, was Mari Antoinette, which is on the hill above Port Victoria.

We decided that having done two days of driving around, really doing a thorough recce of the island, as we do being in production, that we would head over to the small island of La Digue for a night and check that out. The ferry ride to Praslin is about an hour, and of course on island time, left 20 minutes late. A motley mix of travellers of all ages from all over the world, from weary parents of toddlers and newborns, to the many honeymoon couples, with that happy but somewhat smug look of satisfaction on their faces, and several locals doing their commute to or from work.

From there it is another quick ferry ride for fifteen minutes to La Digue. The golf cart from the hotel was waiting to fetch us on the jetty, and it was a 5 minute ride to the hotel right on the water. Wow Wow Wow, is all I can say! We have stayed in many places, but Le Domaine de L’Orangerie has to be way up there with some of the best ever.

The beautiful neutral colours with rough contrasting natural textures used throughout was so soothing to the eye. A wonderful palette of tones is used here, and exactly my colours, from a warm caramel to grey beige to a creamy oyster shade and everything in between. Incredibly natural and yet luxurious. I felt instantly calm and at peace and at home. We were taken on another golf cart up a steep hill to our suite. Again, so well thought out, and gorgeously decorated. The large bathroom with a bamboo shower and a huge stone bath was outdoors, with worn wood, stones and rocks used to finish it off. The view was into the lush green tropical vegetation with a large balcony. We were so overwhelmed, we immediately asked to stay another night to really absorb this beauty.

The pool area was so inviting with huge comfortable loungers and a wet bar, just calling you to come and get a Pina Colada or an ice cold SeyBrew. We were in heaven! Then feeling somewhat guilty for the overindulgence of all things bad for you, we decided to go for a snorkel, from the beach a short walk from the hotel. Everyone rides around on bicycles, and there are very few vehicles on the island, these being mainly utility style or taxis. The snorkelling was fantastic! Crystal clear water, and loads of fish of all sizes and bright colours. We were really amazed to find this right on the shore, as usually one has to go out on a boat to see such abundance and so many species!

We enjoyed the lavish buffet style dinners there, where you could have a variety of local food, so we did get to sample loads of specialties, which was great. The best was a grill section, where fresh fish and vegetables were charred to perfection and served with coconut chutney and the ever present Creole sauce. The restaurant was right on the water and with a lovely soulful singer crooning away in the background adding to the atmosphere. I even managed to get in a cooking lesson with the head chef, where we prepared fish with a Creole sauce, so I shall share this with you soon.

We hired bikes the next morning and did a full ride from one side of the island to the other, which is a great way to see and experience all the sights there are. It is so unspoilt and natural, with lush green vegetation and the typical palm fringed soft white sandy beaches. The one unique feature they do have are the huge boulders on several of the beaches. We rode through an interesting vanilla plantation and then saw the house that the movie GOODBYE EMMANUEL was shot at, a typical Seychellois Plantation house, of which they seem particularly proud as it is marked on every tourist map.

We left reluctantly and headed back to Mahe on the last ferry. The next day we packed up and drove across the island to the West coast, another gorgeous drive over a winding pass, and stopped for lunch at a very small beach called ANSE DE SOLEIL. You drive down a very steep and curved road and come out at this small beach restaurant called CHEZ JULIEN. I highly recommend a visit here. Feet in the sand, casual and very local. You can go for a swim in between courses, that kind of place. We enjoyed a barbecued fish and salad, and of course an icy SeyBrew. The meal didn’t look like anything, and I have to say, it really makes me very uncomfortable when my food looks at me as I am devouring it, but it was incredibly tasty.

Then a short hop and we arrived at the BANYAN TREE. And when I say arrived, I do mean ARRIVED. It is a spectacular property! It was owned years ago by Peter Sellers and George Harrison, so you can imagine the parties that must have happened there! A massive banyan tree set at the entrance welcomes you to paradise. Vast natural gardens with large rocks and water features. It is a combination of a well established Colonial and Seychellois beach style property, with dark wood inside and light wooden almost Carribbean style architecture on the outside. Spectacular long private beach with wild waves, which is so great to see after the calm flat lake like seas we had been experiencing. We were taken up to our suite by golf cart, and again just blown away!

You get your own pool with a covered indoor/outdoor style lounge area, a jacuzzi, set on a wooden balcony high on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Palm trees everywhere to ensure your absolute privacy. Again a classic well appointed comfortable room, with a huge window, so it feels like you are almost outside. From the moment you open your front gate and enter the villa, you could walk around starkers, as not one person looks onto the balcony or the room. A real honeymoon spot. We immediately headed down to the sea for a walk along the beach and good swim in the waves, which was so energising. You hardly see anyone, as the property is huge, and privacy seems to be the order of the day. There are only 60 villas, on this massive property. Thankfully we are fairly connected with the management, and received a good family/friend rate! The staff were so caring and yet professional, that you almost felt like you were staying at a friend’s house, and yet they were discreet and left you to your own devices to enjoy your privacy too.

Talking about rates, be warned…….. the Seychelles is one of the most expensive places we have ever, ever been, and we have traveled extensively! You just need to bite the bullet and go for it. A good way to try to experience everything is to share different dishes where you can, so that you can get to taste more things. Beer is of course affordable, but the wines and cocktails do push the budget somewhat. Such a crime to be charge 20 x the price for a seriously cheap SA wine, that you wouldn’t ever drink at home! Even the supermarket is incredibly expensive, and yet to buy the local fish is very reasonable and abundant.

Gavin went out on a fishing trip from the Ephelia Resort, which he thoroughly enjoyed, and he came back to the hotel laden with fresh fish like Bonita, Grouper and Kingfish. The chef prepared this simply, grilled with a lemon butter sauce, for us that evening. Unbelievably good! This kind of simplicity seems to be missing from most of the menus where they make so many mild curries and use sauces extensively, and tend to overcomplicate what should be a simple cuisine.

The Spa is set high up in the resort and is open to the elements, so this is a wonderful and unique experience, highly recommended as well. I enjoyed the yoga/pilates classes and there is a great gym too, so we did try to balance out the amounts of food that we consumed…… all for research purposes of course!

It was so refreshing to experience all this greenery, so restful to the eye after the harsh arid conditions that our drought in the Cape has created.

We were very sad to leave the island, but it is always good to leave wanting more, and that is how we feel. The Seychellois people are a gentle folk, which is …… by their lilting language, a variation of French. The island is totally unspoilt and natural in so many places, and this is so rare to see nowadays when you are used to what has happened in the overcrowded, overdeveloped popular Thai islands or Mauritius. After this break, I was so ready to get back into the kitchen and to whip up some tasty creations with my fabulous team!

Here is a great Fish Curry, that I ate on several meals there:

Créole Fish Curry
200g firm white fish cut in chunks
40g chopped onion (1/2 cup)
230g chopped fresh tomato (1 cup)
15g crushed garlic (2 T)
4g turmeric powder (2 tsp)
30g olive oil (3T)
salt and pepper to taste
1g curry leaves (6)
10g curry powder (1 T)
10g ginger (1 T)
30g coconut milk (3T)
20g cubed eggplant (2T)
20g chopped coriander (2T)
creole rice (below)
1. Season cubed fish with salt, curry powder, turmeric and marinate for 15-30 minutes. Lightly pan fry and set aside.
2. Pan fry cubed eggplant and set aside.
3. Heat oil over low heat in a heavy skillet. Add onion, garlic, ginger, thyme, curry leaves and stir for a minute.
4. Add salt, pepper, curry powder, chili powder or fresh chili, then add turmeric. Stir for 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and coriander.
5. Deglaze with water or stock and reduce for a few minutes.
6. Add coconut milk and curry leaves, simmer for 2 more minutes.
7. Add prepared fish and simmer for 5 minutes.
8. Add fried eggplant and stir for 30 seconds.
9. Finish with a squeeze or fresh lemon juice and garnish with fresh coriander.
10. Serve over rice .