Cooking class in Antigua
With all the dishes that Nicole is preparing for us today, there’s one little twist. They each have rum in them.
It might seem like an odd ingredient to be cooking with. But when I ask Nicole why food and rum go together like this, she has a simple answer.
“Well, because I like to eat and I like to drink,” she tells me.
Cooking with rum may not be common, but it does make sense when you think about it. We are in Antigua, in the Caribbean, and there is certainly no shortage of rum here. And the locals love the stuff!
“Rum is native to our region,” Nicole tells me.
“It’s easier to get a good rum than it is a good glass of wine.”
I’m at a cooking class that Nicole is holding in her home, called Nicole’s Table. This is her business these days – after many years of working as a chef, she decided she wanted to share her knowledge.
She and her husband Adam have always enjoyed cooking schools when they travel themselves, so they had the idea to show visitors to Antigua a bit of local hospitality.
It’s not just about making the meal, though. For Nicole, it’s also important that she hosts her guests in her home, not a classroom somewhere else.
“Welcome to my home and take it with all its lumps and bumps,” she says.
Then, pointing to her husband, who is sitting in the next room, she jokes “he’s one of the big bumps”.
Of course, Adam is anything but a bump. He is an important part of the whole experience. As a connoisseur of rums, he is in a perfect position to teach us more about the different varieties.
After all the food has been prepared with Nicole, there is some time to wait while it cooks. Adam uses this time to do a rum tasting session with us all, grabbing bottles off his shelf, and taking us through a wide range of tastes.
I have never been much of a rum drinker. However, I have started to appreciate whiskey more in recent years. What’s interesting about Adam’s tasting session is that I am able to see how you would approach rum in the same way you drink whiskey, with different bottles offering different experiences.
For the cooking, Nicole uses a fairly standard local bottle called Cavalier Gold Rum – it’s all that’s needed for these recipes.
We are making three courses today – a sweet potato soup, a flank steak with sides, and a butter rum cake.
All of the dishes that Nicole makes with rum are her own inventions. Although rum is popular in the Caribbean, it’s not normally used for cooking in this way.
“Our tradition for cooking with rum in the Caribbean is mostly desserts – Christmas pudding and things like that,” she tells me.
“And drinking,” she quickly adds. “That’s a huge part of our culture.”
So, in between drinks, Nicole comes up with the recipes herself. She just think about the different flavours and what she would like to eat and then creates a fusion of styles.
I ask Nicole what her friends who are more traditional cooks think about it all.
“At first they think I’m strange but they’re always trying to figure out what I’m working on because they always want to come and try the experiments.”
I can see why.
We sit down for the first course and the bowl of soup in front of me looks fairly normal. I take a sip and it also tastes fairly normal – how you would expect sweet potato soup to be.
But, I then realise, the rum hasn’t been added yet. Out comes the bottle and in goes a generous pour to the bowl in front of me. Picking up the spoon and trying it again, the taste has been transformed. It’s delicious… but I do wonder how drunk this soup will get me.
Our lunch may not be a traditional Antiguan meal – even though there are some very local additions like rice, beans, and plantains. But, then again, this Caribbean island has always been a mix of cultures so some fusion cooking is not that out of the ordinary.
But what is clearly traditional is the warm hospitality we all feel during our afternoon at Nicole’s house. She and Adam make everyone feel welcome, and their two daughters also join in when they come home from school.
For some in our group, the cooking is the highlight and they take careful notes of the recipes, ready to replicate them at home. For others, it’s learning all the details about rum that is the most interesting part.
For me, it’s spending the afternoon in a family home, experiencing the joy of meeting people and chatting over a lovely meal and a few drinks.
After all, that’s often why we cook isn’t it. The rum just makes it all even better!
** If you are interested in joining Nicole for a cooking class in Antigua, you can find all the details and make a booking on her website here. If you prefer, you can also make a reservation here through GetYourGuide.
Time Travel Turtle was a guest of Visit Antigua and Barbuda but the opinions, over-written descriptions and bad jokes are his own.