Startlingly clear turquoise waters usually lure travelers to Turks and Caicos. But the British territory is set on establishing another reputation for itself outside of the beach — one as an epicurean getaway.
“Turks and Caicos has become one of the hottest destinations for culinary travel in the Caribbean. The success of the Caribbean Food & Wine Festival put Turks and Caicos on the map as an international hub for the Caribbean food scene,” says festival co-founder and co-chair Nikheel Advani, who’s also the chief operating officer of host venue Grace Bay Club.
“Before farm-to-table became trendy, or even discussed, local seafood was available right off our shores and had always been a staple of our island diet,” Advani says.
That diet includes plenty of spiny lobsters, distant relatives to their well-known clawed cousins. And Caribbean favorite conch is bountiful thanks to Caicos Conch Farm, the only commercial farm of its kind in the world.
“Turks and Caicos is a great food island to visit,” says Elizabeth Blau, a James Beard Award nominee and renowned restaurateur who was honored at the fest. “There are many talented chefs on island, beautiful resorts and even a fantastic local Indian restaurant called Garam Masala.”
Blau’s husband, Kim Canteenwalla — chef of Honey Salt in Vegas, chef partner of Buddy V’s Ristorante at The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and a festival headliner chef — also relished the local fare. “I loved the great rum punches, and the local fish fry festival on Thursday nights is a warm and fun party atmosphere that showcases the island culture and its cuisine.”
“Turks and Caicos has a passionate food culture set amongst the backdrop of an absolutely stunning location,” says featured festival chef Shawn McClain of Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Sage at ARIA Resort & Casino in Vegas and Green Zebra in Chicago. “The cuisine reflects an international influence executed by very talented chefs. I was excited to experience this robust culinary scene firsthand and look forward to seeing its evolution in the years to come.”
More than 500 people attended the sixth annual festival, which took place in November. We were among them. Here’s where we enjoyed eating and drinking as we tasted our way through the fest and the island:
Grace Bay Club
It’s hard to tear your eyes from the luxury hotel’s pristine 11 acres of white sand along Grace Bay Beach. One of the best places to admire it is from the 90-foot-long outdoor Infiniti Bar with a lime-green Infiniti cocktail (Hpnotiq, Malibu rum, pineapple juice and a pineapple wedge garnish). Enjoy the tropical tipple and nosh on prawn chips and Parmesan truffle popcorn while the sun bows.
Adjacent to the bar is the open-air Infiniti Restaurant & Raw Bar. Lapping waves make the perfect island soundtrack to a meal whose ingredients are plucked from the water. Start with the Turks conch tasting appetizer, which presents the mollusk meat cracked (lightly battered and fried strips), in a salad, as fritters and in chowder.
Then move on to the entrée: red snapper with chermoula (a Moroccan herb and spice blend), quinoa and corn risotto, and lemon and island fruit chimichurri. Or choose the decadent lobster tasting menu with smoked lobster salad, lobster-infused Cajun corn soup, lobster and scallop ravioli and grilled lobster tail.
For more casual fare, try the Turks and Caicos hotel’s oceanfront pop-up; Grace Bay rolls out a trendy new one each year. It celebrates the fifth anniversary of this concept in 2017 with the return of its original pop-up, Stix, which serves elevated skewers of lobster cocktail, jerk-roasted corn on the cob and more.
You could easily overlook this hidden-away Providenciales restaurant. But you’ll be in for a surprise when you step inside its palapa-like dining room surrounded by tropical foliage and twinkling lights.
We fell for it with one sip of the wild mushroom espresso, a creamy burst of rich, earthy flavor. If you spot the appetizer, don’t pass it up. Same goes for the tender wagyu braised short rib, which returns to the menu in early February.
Chef and restaurateur Paul Newman keeps things fresh with an ever-changing roster of dishes, so if that meal isn’t on offer, fall back on favorites like the lobster bisque made with aged rum, sherry, cream and a touch of Scotch bonnet, and beef tenderloin deconstructed Wellington with portabella and spinach.
Seven Stars Resort’s Seven looks like a fine-dining restaurant you’d find in a big city. For that reason alone it diversifies TCI’s culinary scene, bringing a sophisticated seafood and steak menu, tables dressed with pressed white cloth and an air-conditioned dining room, a rarity on the island (though there’s a terrace, if you welcome the warm air).
Kick things off with the diver scallops, which perk up in your mouth with an almond vinaigrette drizzle, bacon powder and peach confit. An even more tempting option is the roasted cauliflower, which morphs into indulgent comfort food with thick goat cheese cream, toasted almonds and arugula vinaigrette.
For the main course, the lobster tail arrives simply prepared — grilled with a baked potato and vegetables — but nothing else is needed to savor its succulent flesh. The meat options are worth a gander as well — Seven won the Island Street Grill Fest’s rib competition (a one-off event within Caribbean Food & Wine).
Afterward, visit the bar, whose drinks have a reputation for being among the best on the island. After learning about our fondness for gin, mixologist Nicolò whipped up a foamy Bon Voyage (muddled cucumber, ginger, gin, housemade cinnamon syrup, St. Germain, egg white and lime juice) that was so good, it made it hard for us to say goodbye to the bar.
Bugaloos Conch Crawl
For seafood in a supremely relaxed atmosphere, follow the locals to the beachfront Bugaloos in Five Cays (one of three original settlements on the island). Fill up on the fresh conch salad with peppers, onion, tomato and lime; sweet coconut-battered conch; addictive conch fritters; and large squares of mouthwatering green-pepper-studded mac and cheese.
It’s a big order, but it will force you to take your time and have a leisurely meal. As you sit in the alfresco restaurant’s oversized wooden chair under the palms, a light breeze kisses your skin and the live reggae band plays “Stir It Up,” you’ll be happy you stayed a while.