Organic Dining in Montego Bay
At Round Hill Resort in Montego Bay, modern takes on Caribbean classics are being created with home-grown organic ingredients–and bringing Jamaican cuisine into the spotlight.
It’s a heavy heat and midday sun that weighs on us as Chef Martin Ian Maginley leads me up the incline of Jamaica’s Round Hill, for which the exclusive resort is named. Adding to the weight is my six-month pregnant belly.
But Chef Maginley, himself a father, is patient and encouraging as he leads me slowly up the sweet-smelling path to the resort’s organic garden.
Just 20 minutes from Montego Bay’s international airport, Round Hill Hotel and Villas—whose guest list includes such cultural elite as a certain vegan musician and his equally famous designer daughter and their families—prides itself on sophisticated farm-to-table fare and has upped its organic game under the stewardship of Chef Maginley.
Born and raised in Toronto, Chef Maginley got an early taste of Caribbean cuisine from his Jamaican mother and Antiguan father.
After stints at the Four Seasons and Scaramouche in Toronto and SuperClubs, Grand Lido Negril Resort & Spa in Jamaica, he landed at Round Hill, where he has honed his Caribbean-meets-21st-century culinary philosophy.
“We take Caribbean food and make it modern,” says Chef Maginley. “We’re taking what they know as a staple here and moving it to the next level.”
As such, the sweet potato gets a gourmet makeover as sweet potato gnocchi with pepper shrimp, using fresh local catch. Fish and chips are courtesy of fresh snapper prepped in water cracker batter. And forget the standard jerk chicken—under Chef Maginley, jerk aioli and roasted jerk pimento sausage with mango chutney take the spotlight.
Other gastronomic mash-ups include roasted breadfruit latkes and lobster poached in coconut milk. Even among such inventive dishes, the traditional rice, peas and callaloo still have their place as sides.
Many of the fruits and vegetables featured on the menu are grown right on the property. The kitchen grows its own organic garden on the hill for which the resort is named, including tomatoes, herbs, lemongrass, ginger, tumeric, fennel, baby greens, eggplant and squashes, as well as four to five different mint varieties, chives and rosemary.
Billy, the soft-spoken gardener, is clearly proud of his work as he plucks a sprig of peppery arugula for me to taste. Instead of using chemical pesticides, he uses a home spray of pepper water and lemongrass, along with charcoal ash and coconut ash, to keep bugs away. Composting—a mix of egg shells and coffee grounds—protects the crop from sea frost, while cover crops—peanuts, green beans, legumes—force nitrogen back into the earth, all of which results in very fertile soil.
It’s all part of an effort to keep it local, as Chef Maginley says, and showcase the freshness of ingredients grown on the island.
“I think the Caribbean, when it comes to food, is still very much under the radar,” says Chef Maginley. “It’s up to me and my team to take it up off the radar. Show them what we’re doing, how healthy it is and how wonderful the flavours are.”
Me and the pregnant belly would have to agree.