The phone rang at home last fall and a voice said “Is this Ashley Farnell?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“Ashley Farnell the kosher chef?” again I replied “yes”, now wondering if this is some crank call trying to sell me something. “Do you do Passover cooking? “Yes” again, being very weary of what I was getting myself into. (The person calling must have thought I was wacko, so reluctant to answer!)
The voice then proceeded “I’m calling from New York and found your name on the internet, I was wondering if you would be willing to cook for the Passover holiday for 16 people?
“YES” was my quick reply, you mean to cook in New York? (Finally a cooking road trip, a new experience and challenge!! Oh no was the reply, at a private property on Harbour Island in the Bahamas.
When I finally got up of the floor, slapped my self to make sure I wasn’t dreaming, I replied with a most enthusiastic “YES", it would be a challenge for sure, to figure out the logistics, but I thrive on new challenges and trying the impossible.
I then discovered the family lives in New York, but were originally from London, England and also spent time in Israel and by chance (as I did not know this family and I was trying to get references to them) I found out they were friends of very good clients I have in Toronto, from when they lived in Israel.
The plan was to ship everything (except the kitchen sink). I have visited the Bahamas before on vacation and kosher or Jewish connections on Nassau are very limited (I always try to look for Jewish/ kosher things when I’m away), all the more so on a small island.
We were to ship (fly) everything down direct from Toronto to Nassau and then by boat to the island. Having done large catering functions before where you need everything for off premise catering, to set up a list was fairly easy. The key is to not forget anything. The list was started and slowly it got bigger and bigger, waking up in the middle of the night and writing down stupid items you take for granted, but I know will not be down there. Cleaning items for Passover, foil pans, soaps, stacks of matzo, popsicle moulds for the kids, knives, pots, pans, ladles, tin openers, bamboo skewers for bbq’s...
The next step was to contact Canadian and Bahamian customs to find out what is required. From this end it was fairly smooth, but I have been to the Bahamas, and I know that while the people are very nice and friendly, they are in no rush to do anything. I'm used to big city life, fast paced, 24/7.
After 5 months of planning the day finally arrived for my “partner in crime”, very good friend and Chef Steve Swartz, and me to make the trip down to Nassau. We were to travel with all the meats, supplied by a Glatt Kosher butcher in Toronto, packed frozen, ice and Styrofoam. The dry goods/foods had already gone down, and were awaiting our arrival in storage in Nassau; we embark on the trip/work of a lifetime.
We arrived in Nassau, and collected all our items from the flight and storage. 33 boxes weighing in at over 900 lbs. Some sight!
The ferry to Harbour Island was a 2 hour sail and fairly smooth.
On arriving on Harbour Island, it felt like we had come to Paradise. It is 3 miles long and 11/2 miles wide and sits east of Nassau on the eastern tip of Eleuthera, in the Atlantic Ocean. All the people from the small restaurants and 3 small grocery stores were also waiting for the boat for supplies. We found out later the supply ship comes once a week on Thursday’s and that’s it, so the common phrase on the island if you need something is “its coming on the boat Thursday”. Even if it’s Friday, you have to wait until next week!
Amazing photos of our amazing trip are below, but for now, some authentic famous Bahamian island recipes (not the ones we prepared for the Passover meal).
The guava duff is a popular one on the Bahamian islands and probably their most famous.
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1 cup. sugar
3 eggs, beaten
2 c. guava pulp (guava put thru a sieve or food mill)
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground clove (optional)
3 cups cake meal
2 tsp. baking powder
Cream butter or margarine with sugar; add eggs, guava & spices. Beat until smooth.
Sift together cake meal & baking powder & add to guava mixture.
The dough will be stiff. Place mixture in greased top of double boiler and cook over boiling water; or use a can with a tightly fitting cover and place can in tea kettle or pan of boiling water about 2/3 from top of can.
Steam 3 hours.
Slice and serve with Butter-Egg sauce.
Butter Egg Sauce
4 Tbsp. butter or margarine
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg, separated
Cream butter or margarine & sugar; add egg yolk and blend.
Beat the egg white until stiff and fold into mixture.
If too thick, a very small amount of hot water can be added.
Serve over Guava Duff (hot).
The pineapple dish uses the Bahamas most famous produce the Pineapple. Most are grown on the island Eleuthera, the closest island to where we were.
4 cups fresh crushed pineapple
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 lb. margarine
6 tsp. baking powder
6 cups cake meal
1 cup cream
1 1/2 cups sugar
Boil pineapple & 1 ½ cups sugar together for 15 min. & set aside.
Pour cake meal into a mixing bowl; mix in salt, baking powder & 1 c. sugar.
Make a hole in the middle: add egg, margarine, cream & mix well.
Gather dough together with fingers and press into a ball. Turn on lightly floured board & knead.
Divide dough in half, roll out one portion & line a well-greased pie pan (standard size).
Fill with already prepared filling. Roll out remainder of dough & cut into 1/2 inch strips. Moisten edge of bottom dough. Lay half of pastry strips across one way, and the other half the other way, to form a criss-cross pattern.
Remaining sugar gets dusted on top.
Bake at 350 degrees F. for 1 1/2 hrs. or until golden brown.
This is the Thursday supply ship (green) at the harbour dock.
The island is world famous for its pink sand beach on the east side which is made from ground red shells found among some of the worlds most famous coral beds and clear waters. We were fortunate enough to be staying on this side of the island and the views were truly amazing
Ocean view and pink sand beach from the property
Another feature of the island is golf carts! There are not too many cars and the mode of transport is the golf cart. There must be hundreds of them - the island has 1500 inhabitants and everybody has a least one plus rental companies and a cart wash for locals and tourists.
Another famous landmark is “the lone Tree” It was washed ashore during Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and was left by the storm in an upright position. It has never been touched or moved since and still stands now on the beach.
And two moments I captured - one during the day when the tide was out and one as the sun was setting.
The sunsets were truly amazing especially the cloud formations.
This trip really was an amazing experience for both Steve and myself. Special thanks must go to the families we catered for, their confidence in allowing us to do this simcha for them. They were amazing people to work for and it was a real pleasure to be around them and their great children.