Known for its jerk, sun, sand and sea Jamaica can now confidently add ital food to its list of selling points as it moves to embrace the wellness tourism market. This healthy style of preparing tasty dishes made from homegrown ingredients has been taken way beyond the next level by the elegant Lisa Binns and her rootsy husband Christopher — aka Stush and Bush — respectively. On November 9 they laid out a spread unlike any other at their rustic, yet chic, hideaway way up in the hills of St Ann.
“What Chris and Lisa have created up in Freehill is really, really terrific,” says Shane Nelson, a regular contributor for US trade publication TravelAge West. He was among the group of local and international media and travel writers who piled into a spacious coaster bus that navigated the corners of a winding road, occasionally offering peeks of spectacular views of the parish below. The adventure continued along a bumpy track, accessed through a uniquely Jamaican experience for those who dared, riding in the uncovered back of Christopher’s van. His shouted warnings of, “Duck!” as supple tree limbs and leaves approached were drowned out by peals of laughter and screams of delight.
Mere minutes later, though it felt a lot longer, the van came to a halt and guests were greeted by a team of massive dogs eager to make new friends. Cocooned by lush vegetation all around, it was hard to decide what to explore first. A bunch of green bananas hanging from a pimento tree, as if it had grown there, competed with carvings of wooden masks, one adorned with a bright red flower that sat like a bow in its dreadlocks. And there was wood — sometimes rough-hewn, sometimes a bit more polished — everywhere the eye travelled. It was so unlike anything many among the group, even the locals, had ever seen before. And the evening had just begun. Before dinner Chris took the group on a tour of the farm, pointing out some of the ingredients that made their way into the meal. It was all part of his very eloquently delivered message about the benefits of growing what you eat and the importance of sustainability.
“There’s a great deal of industry research now available, indicating that the pandemic has accelerated American travellers’ demand not only for more sustainable travel options, but also the chance to genuinely connect with communities they visit in an authentic way during their vacations. The Stush in the Bush experience really checks all those boxes, and the food up there is simply fabulous,” says Nelson.
A sturdy wooden table laden with a mezze (a little bit of this a little bit of that, Lisa explained) of plant-based dishes was the prelude to a multi-course spread that made up the farm-to-table experience. Fun fact: No gluten means the fare is far less filling, so you can have a lot more than you usually would.
A former school principal, the Barbadian-born Lisa was in her element as she explained the dishes on the massive table. Their food, she explained, is ital, a Rastafarian-based approach which is the basis for today’s veganism. She sees a trend in the acceptance of this type of culinary art and its role in Jamaica’s efforts to tap into wellness tourism.
“I think Jamaica could be very ready for the wellness tourism market,” Lisa tells LetsTravelCaribbean.com in-between presenting the scrumptious spread. “There are a lot of great places that are offering a lot of wonderful food. There are a lot of people that are doing really great work and have been doing it for years. People are just much more focused, ever since COVID-19, about plant-based life, in the first place, and also thinking about what’s going into their bodies. We could all take a tip and kind of tone down the meat, and even the fish, and allow ourselves to kind of have an appreciation for the breadth that vegetables can really give you. I don’t think people really think of vegetables in that way. But there’s a lot of things that we can do.”
She certainly proved that with the dishes in her mouth-watering mezze menu.
THE MEZZE MENU
– Crispy plantain chips fried in coconut oil and dusted with pink Himalayan salt and cracked pepper
– Gluten-free yam and pineapple croquettes, breaded in bammy crumbs and coconuts
– Roasted breadfruit with a hint of jerk seasoning. The breadfruit, as with most ingredients, is from the expansive Stush in the Bush farm but the dry jerk seasoning is from The Pepper Tree, another local artisan
– ‘Fish’ cakes made from eggplant and nori, an edible seaweed
– Almond hummus with a liberal sprinkling of cumin, a bit of aleppo pepper, some scotch bonnet pepper, garlic oil, and a smidgen of fresh parsley
– Roasted pumpkin hummus with a touch of maple syrup then topped with toasted seeds drizzled with extra virgin oil for a bit of crunch
– Plantain ceviche. As its name suggests this is made from uncooked plantains, softened by lime juice (orange juice could also be used) and salt. Fresh cilantro and red onions add another burst of flavour
– Sweetie cherry tomato marmalade, which also includes oranges from the farm
– Chimichurri sauce with parsley and a touch of cilantro. This goes well with just about any dish
– Banana preserve with a little bit of pepper sauce for added oomph
– Carrot lox, the plant-based substitute for lox made from salmon. This is made by shaving carrots, placing them in the oven then adding brine to the chilled dish. It’s seasoned with fresh dill and capers
– Homemade salt bread rolls to go with the cheese board (ricotta, feta, and cheddar) that’s garnished with fresh tangerines and quick-pickled (therefore more sweet than briny) suyo long cucumbers
– Almond ricotta made from the milk of that nut and a splash of the juice from fresh lemons. Topped with chives and a little bit of extra virgin olive oil
– Marinated feta, also made from almonds. There is a choice of chilli flavour or pimento and fresh rosemary
– Cashew-based cheddar cheese that goes really well with the salted rolls. The cheese is topped with toasted cashews
– And, of course, the mezze would not be complete without Stush in the Bush’s famous pepper sauces. The red ‘Piri Piri’ is made from bird pepper, red sweet pepper, bay leaves, onions and tomatoes. The yellow ‘Don’t Tek a 6 for a 9’ gets its colour from home-made mustard, while the green ‘Blow Fyah’ is a magical blend of green scotch bonnet pepper, garlic, ginger, cilantro, and coconut oil. It’s named for a nearby mountain and the first pepper sauce Stush ever made for hubby Christopher.