Antigua Chef Insider: Simon Christey-French

Award-winning chef Simon Christey-French is savouring island life, and being flexible.
 

Simon Christey-French, photograph by Emma Mathieson.

Perched on the cliffs overlooking the aquamarine waters of Antiqua’s Ffryes Bay, Sheer Rocks is one of the hottest dining experiences on the island. Sure, the view is jaw-dropping, the plunge pool is Instagram-worthy and the cocktail list has 21 gin drinks alone, but it’s Simon Christey-French’s Mediterranean-style food with Caribbean influences that is drawing diners.

Being head chef at a small restaurant in Antigua is not something Christey-French envisioned for himself, but he couldn’t be happier paying tribute to the local culture with his exceptional seafood dishes and elaborate meals.

After winning Young Chef of the Year in the UK in 2007, he went from cooking in Michelin-starred restaurants in London to being Richard Branson’s private chef on Necker Island. Following a stint as chef de cuisine at the Pink Sands Club in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, he came to Antigua.

Christey-French says that he aims to give diners a sense of place, so 80 per cent of the ingredients at Sheer Rocks are locally sourced.

“I’ve had to adapt my menu to local styles,” he says. “And availability of ingredients means that I’ve become somewhat flexible—if I swap my grouper for snapper, nobody’s going to complain that it’s too fresh.”

An aerial view of Sheer Rocks, photograph by Diane Morley-Ham.

Q: Was it hard transitioning to a Caribbean style of cooking?

The availability of ingredients here has pushed me to be more creative. I joke that I could write a book now on 101 things to do with pumpkin. Being in contact and really hands-on with smaller suppliers who grow [produce] on the island has a lot more soul to it compared to calling up a wholesaler and ticking off boxes.

Q: What’s your favourite menu item?

An oven-baked mahi mahi with comte and pretzel crust—the strong salty, cheesy, pretzel butter crust goes so well with the creamy cauliflower purée and charred leeks that we serve it with.

Q: How are you inspired?

I’m inspired by the great team I work with, as well as the local producers and fishermen. One of our best-selling dishes is a creamy and aromatic spicy coconut fish curry; it’s a recipe from one of our sous chefs.

Q: What are some challenges?

In the Caribbean, every rule is very flexible. Things don’t ever run on time. People aren’t always reliable. Minutes before service, with a full restaurant, your fish supplier might not turn up. You always have to have a Plan B and a Plan C.

Q: How much joy does working here bring you?

Every day, I walk down the steps to the restaurant, which has 180-degree ocean views. I’m still taking photos of sunsets. The staff tease me, saying: “Haven’t you seen enough sunsets?” But I never get tired of that view


Sheer Rocks at a Glance

Decor

The shabby-chic feel includes furnishings made using materials found on the island.

Photograph by Alfred Searchinger.

Price

The average dish costs around US$30.

Signature Dish

The Seared King Scallops & Sticky Pork Belly with pumpkin and beetroot.

Photograph courtesy of Sheer Rocks.

Cocktail

Wash your meal down with the Old-Fashioned Rum Punch, made from a top-secret local recipe.


Food Fact

Antigua’s national dish is fungee, a polenta-like cornmeal dish often served with a spicy meat soup or salt-fish.


[This story appears in the November 2019 edition of WestJet Magazine.]

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