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Bounty Hunters - Seychelles local produce

BOUNTY HUNTERS

Words: Lisa Barnard    Photography: Paul Thuysbaert

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Seeking to combine regional flair with sustainability, Executive Chef Chris Meredith at Raffles Seychelles has discovered a wealth of local produce for his dishes, inspired by the Indian Ocean

No man is an island. Nor is a chef. So a chef posted to a far-flung island in the Indian Ocean is likely to find he has a challenge on his hands. Getting the balance between remoteness and connection is no mean feat. This is what Chris Meredith, Executive Chef and Food and Beverage Director at Raffles Seychelles, discovered when he arrived at the island of Praslin in February 2015.

For visitors to Raffles Seychelles, food is an integral part of the experience. Over the past 18 months, the cuisine at Raffles Seychelles has been revolutionised, primarily at Meredith’s instigation, coupled with the drive of General Manager Joerg Roterberg and his team. With responsibility for the entire food operation of 86 luxury villas and residences, including 10 restaurants and bar outlets, plus the spa — and with a team of 110 staff — Meredith has had his chef’s hands full since his arrival.

Top: clear turquoise waters and pure white sand - Praslin has everything an island in the Indian Ocean should.Above: ultra-fresh sashimi from locally caught fish is served in the Sushi Room

Intrigued by his success, I journeyed to Praslin to meet the man himself. Spending a few days with the down-to-earth Meredith, visiting a variety of local producers he has cultivated and witnessing first-hand the entire process from land (or ocean)to table, proved to be a whirlwind food odyssey.From pork farming to fishing, from vanilla plantation to a local rum tasting, the variety and commitment to excellence on a group of tiny islands was remarkable.

The quality of a dish is only as good as the quality of the raw materials and so Meredith decided to turn the supply chain on its head, he tells me. By making the effort to track down new food suppliers locally and sustainably, he has transformed the cuisine across the resort. This includes introducing local and traditional dishes on to the menus, building the Asian-style flair the resort is known for and creating a Sushi Room, offering a new level of dining experience worth travelling hundreds of miles for.

Chris Meredith
Over Seychelles
A chef posted to a far-flung island in the Indian Ocean is likely to find he has a challenge on his hands
Local fishermen
Samson, the main supplier of fruit and vegetables

Clockwise from top left: Chris Meredith, Executive Chef at Raffles Seychelles, is supplying his kitchens by forging strong links with local producers. These include Samson, the main supplier of fruit and vegetables from a farm on La Digue where he grows a wide variety of fresh produce, and local fishermen who catch fish sustainably using rods rather than nets. Breadfruit trees cover the islands and Meredith serves up breadfruit chips alongside Creole-baked locally caught fish in his Losean restaurant

As we walk beneath Praslin’s shady palms, waves gently lapping in the distance, Meredith explains how he faced the conundrum that many chefs do in exotic outposts. The easy option is to go the international route and import everything. These days the world is every chef’s oyster. With Dubai a few hours away by plane, virtually any ingredient is available with a click or a phone call and any kitchen can conjure up a steady stream of luxury delicacies. But oysters come at a price and that option is also the least appetising, the least eco-friendly and the most expensive.

The alternative — going local — requires boldness, resourcefulness and determination. If you set out to combine regional flair with the quality and reliability expected in a 5-star resort, you need to track down plentiful local supplies. Praslin, nestled within a UNICEF world heritage site, and its neighbouring islands are not just blessed with beauty, they are also bountiful. So, for Meredith, the answer was simple. Going local it had to be.

Meredith recounts: “When I arrived here in 2015, everything was imported — fruit, veg, meat, fish and so on. It all came in from Dubai. Even fish that was caught locally was exported to Dubai and imported back to the Seychelles. We’ve had to seek out and build new relationships with local people. Once you have a relationship with one, others want to support you and we want to support them. We have to work with people closely. We take everything they offer. As well as guests, we have 270 colleagues to feed — which is like running another hotel — so we can use everything available.”

The move from international to local has been embraced positively by guests at the resort, but there are inevitable challenges. As Meredith explains: “It has been an education. People may ask me why there are no strawberries. And the answer is because they are out of season. We try to get people into the time and the place and educate them that things might look different. People are more aware of air miles and sustainability these days, but we are a five-star hotel, so people also expect to get what they want. Overall we have had a very positive reaction from our guests.”

When I arrived here in 2015, everything was imported — fruit, veg, meat, fish. It all came in from Dubai

Establishing a network of regular suppliers from Praslin and the nearby islands was not easy, but once word got out that there was a plan to source local produce, many members of staff came forward with suggestions. “When they realised we need local stock, the people at work also helped. It can be a kitchen porter or a housekeeper or members of their families who are the producers. Colleagues have really embraced it and they are proud of what we are doing. The challenge is to get consistent quality and quantity, but it’s been pretty good.”

As well as helping to source suppliers, colleagues have been encouraged to contribute ideas for dishes. “We ask them to come up with recipes inspired by Creole cooking and the Indian Ocean. They are often based on dishes that have been handed down through the generations. We work with them to refine them and they go on the menu. Colleagues play an active role.”

Local supplies include pork from a farm on Praslin, which also produces free range chickens and some duck. A visit to the farm, just a few miles from the resort, highlights the sustainability and high standards: it is well-run, clean and committed to eco-friendly farming practices. The animals are slaughtered on the premises, avoiding the need for transportation. The hotel makes weekly collections and takes what is available. Since Meredith has been in charge, the kitchens make their own sausages, cure the bacon and smoke the fish. “That’s where we can give something back to the locals. They show us ‘old stuff’ and we show them new techniques.”

Intricately crafted sushi

Above: intricately crafted sushi that are almost too perfect to eat.

A vegetable and herb garden has recently been planted at Raffles Seychelles and is now productive, but is obviously far too small to supply the requirements of the resort. Vegetable and fruit suppliers are scattered around Praslin and there is also a main supplier on the island of La Digue, a pleasant place to visit with its tumbledown, laid-back, old-world charm. Here a wide variety of produce is grown under the watchful eye of farmer Samson, including pumpkins, ladies fingers, cucumbers, okra, aubergines, zucchini, papaya, bananas and watermelon. Vanilla is also sourced from the local plantations, when in season. You have to be patient — the vanilla harvest is once every two years.

Once the network of suppliers was in place, Meredith set about transforming the menus. As the main restaurant, Losean puts Seychellois cuisine at the heart, serving dishes inspired by the Indian Ocean — such as Creole-baked local catch with breadfruit chips, or reef fish ceviche with a local fruit bilimbi — and other dishes flavoured with vanilla from La Digue. Losean is under the ebullient and energetic stewardship of Chef Robin Etienne, who has injected local flair and passionate expertise into the restaurant’s cuisine. As we discovered during our stay, the high point of the week is the Wednesday night buffet at Losean, which is Etienne’s spectacular and beguiling feast of local specialities, ranging from Creole fish curries to roast suckling pig on a spit (from the pork farm on Praslin), from bat curry to palm-heart salad. There is also a dazzling array of desserts, including banana fritters and coconut nougat — the indulgent honey and lychee crème brûlée went down especially well.

Top left to right: Praslin is covered by lush, tropical vegetation including shady palms. Meredith is trying to source all his supplies locally rather than importing everything from Dubai, which was the situation when he arrived in 2015. Talented chef Robin Etienne presides over the Wednesday night buffet.Bottom left to right: Meredith with chicken farmer Mr Morel; tasting sessions of Takamaka, the locally made rum, can be had in the rum bar by the beach; a farm hand at work

Meredith is proud of the resort’s other fine dining restaurant Curieuse, which is the only Asian restaurant in the Seychelles, led by Chef de Cuisine Sunil Dutt and offering full-flavoured dishes from India, China and Thailand. The restaurant’s setting, adjacent to the pool and beach, has as an atmospheric island feel. “We’ve tried to move away from traditional fine dining and create a local experience.”

An important milestone was opening the new Sushi Room, with its sushi and sashimi providing a superb showcase for the locally caught fish. It has been a huge success from the day it opened. The stylish, intimate dining room, with just eight tables, has a contemporary and sophisticated design, with sleek woods and an open kitchen. Observing the sushi chefs at work is part of the theatre. Under the tutelage of its talented head sushi chef Jaswant, they are intricately crafting their creations, which are almost — but fortunately not quite — too beautiful to eat.

I would thoroughly recommend the Omakase Curieuse tasting menu.Omakase means “I’ll leave it to you” in Japanese so each course is a surprise and a delight. Sake is a big theme in the Sushi Room and a highlight for me was the sake nigiri yaki with orange miso glaze — the combination of succulent fresh local fish infused with the gentle sweetness of sake and the citrus tang of the glaze was heaven. A perfect accompaniment to this was Junmai Ginjo, a sparkling sake considered more refreshing and lighter than traditional still sakes.

With cuisine now at the heart of the Raffles Praslin experience, it makes sense that the drinks menus have had a makeover too. Under the resort’s dynamic Food and Beverage Manager, Oskar Skoog, a trained sommelier, the wine list has been overhauled with high-quality house wines directly imported from South Africa. For those seeking something a little stronger, the resort boasts an extensive rum list that includes rums from the local Seychellois rum distillery Takamaka from Mahé. This has inspired the name of the relaxed rooftop lounge with views of across the bay to Curieuse — the Takamaka Terrace.

A dramatic sunset over Anse Lazio

Above: a dramatic sunset over Anse Lazio, said by some to be one of the best places in the world to watch the sun go down

We were lucky to experience a rum tasting tutored by Skoog at the intimate rum bar by the beach. There is a noticeable difference between Takamaka’s aged rums and the standard range you would find at the airport; the Extra Noir for example, matured in new French oak, has a spiciness and depth that stands out from the standard range.

But if there is one rum experience you have to have at Raffles Seychelles it is a piña colada. We watched as the coconut was cracked right in front of us, the milk the freshest you can experience, and the finished cocktail served in the original shell — probably the most delicious eco-friendly piña colada in the world.

Now we have put food and beverage first it means guests can have a great and different experience every night

Dynamic General Manager Roterberg is justifiably proud of what has been achieved in the resort’s food transformation and has been fully behind the programme of change. “Previously the hotel was known for its villas, which are beautiful. Now we have put food and beverage first, it means guests can have a great and different experience every night they are here. Everything is local and everything has its specific timetable. Pineapples are only served at breakfast when they are in season. We have to be flexible and can’t tell our suppliers what to deliver. It’s fresh so we will use it in our restaurants.”

As well as dining in the resort’s varied restaurants, guests can enjoy food in the setting of their choice. You can have your own private restaurant on the beach with a bespoke barbecue and a table for two, a memorable picnic of Champagne and canapés while watching one of the world’s most dramatic sunsets at Anse Lazio, or dinner served on the terrace of your villa. Wherever you dine at Raffles Seychelles, you can be sure that you will be eating the freshest food, prepared authentically and served with a beaming smile.

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