WITH THE ENTIRE house now sparkling clean, Nicole steps away from Caribbean foods in the kitchen and moves outside on the veranda to cool off amid the potted plants and dark wood patio furniture. A gentle breeze greets her, as she looks down at the pink and purple flowers blooming on the foliage in her lush, tropical garden.
She lets her eyes meander across the view from her mountain-top home in Antigua. Facing west to the landscape below await the Caribbean Sea and Port of St. John. On a clear day, the islands of Montserrat, Nevis and St. Kitts appear in the distance.
Nicole relishes one last look at the breathtaking view and returns inside, knowing that her guests will arrive soon. Most will dock at English Harbour, Jolly Beach Harbour or Dickensen Bay and take a taxi or rental car up the hill. All of them will be eager to learn the secrets of Caribbean foods in the comfort of her home. They will meet Nicole’s family – husband Adam and daughters Emily and Zoe – who are on hand to enhance the friendly teaching environment and unique foodie experience that awaits.
The Food Was Just the Beginning
Nicole’s Table was created to introduce visitors to local Caribbean foods, culture and lifestyle. “We started our cooking classes, because I love Caribbean foods and flavors. I wanted to give people a relaxed setting where we could prepare our meal, learn about cooking from one another, and share stories whatever they might be,” says Nicole.
Following in her family’s culinary footsteps, Nicole began working at her parents’ restaurant in Plymouth, Montserrat, when she was young. Years later, she served as a private chef for an estate home on the exclusive island resort of Jumby Bay. Nicole inherited a love for cooking from her mother, Pam, who is known for quick casseroles and hot sauces. Nicole built upon traditional island cuisine to craft her own style of Caribbean “twist” cooking that embraces decadent desserts, flavorful condiments and healthy ingredients.
Officially launched in 2015, Nicole’s Table opened with four menu options: “All about Jerk,” “Cooking with Rum,” “Coordinating Curry” and “From the Sea.” Those menus, which are still available today, cover a range of dishes created by Nicole and inspired by the island’s cornucopia of fresh seafood, meats, herbs and produce.
The first year for Nicole’s Table ended on a high note with TripAdvisor awarding her first Certificate of Excellence. Each year, her unique teaching style and innovative recipes resulted in new certificates culminating in a 5/5 rating and TripAdvisor’s rare Hall of Fame designation. She received similar accolades from other review sites, coverage from international media, and even landed a feature on the British cooking show “Caribbean Kitchen,” hosted by Ainsley Harriott. Nicole’s Butter Rum Cake gained a fan base from that show, with guests requesting the recipe (see p. 89) and Chef Ainsley presenting it in his new cookbook.
A Very Caribbean Experience
At Nicole’s Table, a typical day starts just before 11:00 a.m. with Nicole and Adam greeting guests, serving cool water or a local juice as a refreshment, and giving a short tour of the main living area and veranda. The house’s high cathedral ceilings and open style breed comfort, while the huge veranda offers a stunning view, comfy couches designed to help you unwind and a long wooden table for family-style dining.
Class kicks off with everyone washing their hands and tying on an apron, as Nicole explains how the day will unfold. Nicole then guides everyone to prepare lunch — chopping, cutting, and blending — whatever is necessary to make a fantastic Caribbean meal. There is no shortage of laughing over stories from Nicole about growing up in the islands or the many entertaining names West Indians give their food. Guests tell their own tales, in a little time, a group of strangers become a gathering of friends.
“I love exchanging stories with my guests. I learn as much from them as they do me, and I treat everyone the same way I do my friends when they come over to cook with me,” says Nicole. A recent guest remarked, “We had the most wonderful day at Nicole’s Table. She was welcoming and brought everyone in, whether they were experienced or beginners. She shared her knowledge, her home, and the best meal we had on the island.”
Along with the cooking experience comes the ever-popular rum tasting. Guest sample rums from six different locations across the Caribbean and Central and South America. The goal is to taste the subtle differences among two rums each from French, English and Spanish countries.
When all the food has been prepared and cooked to perfection, lunch is served family style on Nicole’s veranda, where guests indulge their senses in Caribbean life — the gentle breeze, spectacular seaport view, friendly banter, storytelling, and of course, the sweet and savory flavors of the islands. The rest of the day is filled with laughter as new friends enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Nicole’s Butter Rum Cake
½ cup chopped walnuts
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup butter
3 tablespoons plus ½ cup vegetable oil
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cups cornstarch
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¾ oz box instant vanilla pudding (yes, really!)
¾ cups whole milk
¾ cups dark rum
1 tablespoon vanilla
Preheat the oven to 325 F, generously grease and flour a 10 cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle chopped walnuts on the bottom of the prepared pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients: flour, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
In another bowl whisk together the wet ingredients: eggs, milk, rum, vanilla extract and ½ cup vegetable oil. Cream the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy. Slowly add the dry ingredients along with 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Mix on medium-low speed until the mixture looks like sand, about 1 minute. Add the pudding packet and beat on medium speed until combined. Pour the egg mixture into the dry ingredients, mix on medium speed until thoroughly combined. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl. The batter should be smooth, and it will be thin. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. About 10 minutes before the cake is finished baking, start making the rum syrup.
½ cup butter
½ cup water
¾ cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ cup dark rum
In a saucepan with high sides combine butter, water, sugar and salt. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and cook for 5 minutes. Keep an eye on the syrup because it can boil over. Remove the syrup from heat and slowly stir in the dark rum.
Let the cake rest for 10 minutes and turn it out to loosen it from the pan. Return the cake to the pan and slowly pour 1/3 of the rum syrup over the bottom of the cake. Use a skewer to poke small holes in the cake to help the syrup seep into the cake, let the cake sit for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto the serving platter and slowly pour the remaining rum syrup over the cake, making sure to do it slowly so the syrup is absorbed and does not run down the sides of the cake.