Tropical Dining with a Jamaican Twist: Sustainable Mille Fleurs Restaurant

No good hotel is complete without an innovative restaurant, and Hotel Mocking Bird Hill’s Mille Fleurs is just such a place. I savored every mouth-watering bite during my stay there—and each was both sustainable and satisfying.

The romantic Mille Fleurs restaurant in Jamaica focuses on organic, island-grown foods. Photo courtesy Hotel Mocking Bird Hill

Unlike many Caribbean resorts that import the majority of their food, Hotel Mocking Bird Hill cooks with locally grown and harvested ingredients whenever possible, thereby supporting local farmers and putting fresh, tasty, and usually organically-grown foods on guests’ plates. Chef Melvin Laidlaw and the hotel’s owners also seek out foods that originate from within 50 miles, occasionally widening that to 90 miles when necessary.

The Mille Fleurs adventure begins before your first dinner at the hotel when Chef Melvin sits down to tell you what’s on the menu (it changes daily, depending on what’s in season). He also explains the origins of all the foods and describes Jamaican specialties such as callaloo (a green, leafy vegetable—like spinach—that’s simmered with coconut milk, chopped onions and garlic).

Chef Melvin also asks about your dietary restrictions or preferences. If you’re gluten intolerant, you’re in luck. Cassava, a starchy root that grows in the tropics, is a Jamaican staple—and cassava flour is gluten free. It’s the primary ingredient in Jamaican coconut-milk-fried flatbread called “bammy”—which is heaven!

Dreamy Dining

Candlelit by night, Mille Fleurs restaurant creates romantic atmosphere on its terrace overlooking the Caribbean Sea and rainforest—with the Blue Mountains on the horizon. I loved sitting with a rum drink as the sun set, feeling the cool night breeze and watching the fireflies glow.

To give you a sample of the outrageously good food, my first night’s meal include an orange salad with green olives and local feta* accompanied by fresh-baked herb rolls and scones. For the main course, I chose spiny Caribbean lobster, served with herb butter. (Note: I visited Hotel Mocking Bird Hill in late March, the last days before the close of lobster-catching season. April 1 through June 30 is the lobster’s breeding/egg-laying time, and if you eat lobster between those dates, chances are they’re poached—and I don’t mean in the cooking-method sense!)

To top off the meal, I reveled in a sampler platter of Mango Cheesecake and Papaya and Jamaican Apple & Coconut Custard.

Vegetarian Paradise

I also have to mention that Chef Melvin pampers vegetarians and vegans with Jamaican flavor. On any given day, the menu might include Stir-Fried Callaloo with Garlic, Breadfruit and Peanuts; Spicy Okra and Tomato with Yogurt; Herb Pancakes Filled with Ratatouille and Feta; or Homemade Pasta with Spicy Pumpkin Sauce.

Mille Fleurs participates in Meatless Mondays, a global initiative that promotes reducing your carbon footprint. (The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates the meat industry generates one-fifth of the man-made greenhouse-gas emissions that are accelerating climate change worldwide.)

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

* I’m compelled to sing the praises of the artisan cheeses served at Mille Fleurs. They’re crafted at Jamaica’s Tamarind Hill Farm by Joanna Slimforte and they’re spectacular. I’ve never tasted such vibrant feta outside the Mediterranean, and the goat cheeses vie with Europe’s.

Originally posted on on May 21, 2010

Read more about my travels in Jamaica:

Chef Melvin Laidlaw hosts cooking classes at Hotel Mocking Bird Hill. During this one, we learned some classic Jamaican recipes: jerk chicken, fried plantain, grilled breadfruit, and red beans and rice cooked in coconut milk.

Organic Christmas Cookies and More

Lunch at the Bluefront Café in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, equals yum! This cheery, brightly colored café makes the most out of banks of lovely windows and its clean modern décor. (It also displays an energetic print of Renoir’s painting “The Oarsmen’s Breakfast”—a tip of the hat to the lake-faring folk of Door County.)

All but one of Susan Guthrie’s festive cherry cookies was snatched up by my friends before I could get my camera out to take this photo.

All but one of Susan Guthrie’s festive cherry cookies was snatched up by my friends before I could get my camera out to take this photo.

The Bluefront was the perfect dining spot—with local and organic food on the menu and local artists’ work on the walls.

I sampled the tasty, tangy Asian chicken wrap—a rollup of fresh cabbage, veggies, cashews and chicken with a sesame-ginger dipping sauce. One of my travel companions swooned over the fresh spinach salad with pecans, Neuske Wisconsin smokehouse bacon and goat cheese. And the fish tacos—featuring local Lake Michigan whitefish—are apparently the most requested item on the menu.

Chef/owner Susan Guthrie wholeheartedly supports sustainable business, dreams of installing solar panels on the restaurant’s roof, lovingly renovated an old building to create the restaurant, and buys about 50 percent of her ingredients from organic producers (more in summer months when it’s readily available.) She even offers earth-friendly straws for sipping your iced tea or natural soda.

Despite the wonderful lunch entrees, the highlight of the dining experience, I must admit, was the plate of Christmas cookies Susan set on our table. We all reveled in shortbread cookies with chunks of Door County tart cherries baked in, melt-in-your-mouth molasses cookies sprinkled with powdered sugar, and a chocolate-peppermint cookie that will forever set the standard for me. The cookie had an almost-but-not-quite-brownie texture and contained the ideal peppermint-to-chocolate ratio. Sheer Christmas heaven!!!

Weigh in (pun intended) on your favorite Christmas dessert by leaving a comment below.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The Bluefront is located in a historic building in downtown Sturgeon Bay.

The Bluefront is located in a historic building in downtown Sturgeon Bay.

Boulder’s Salt Bistro Preserves the Earth

Salt, a restaurant opened by visionary chef/owner Bradford Heap in 2009, is a culinary delight with a conscience for preserving natural resources.

Save room for Salt Bistro's Chocolate Caramel Tart, sprinkled with (what else?) salt.

Located on Boulder, Colorado ’s Pearl Street, Salt Bistro was created in the historic space that was formerly the home of Tom’s Tavern, a downtown landmark for more than 40 years. While renovating the restaurant for his new bistro, Heap and his wife, Carol Vilate, a designer, reused as many elements from the original building as possible—an effort that imbues Salt Bistro with a sense of the past—and that reduced the need for new materials. The tin ceiling was original from the 19th century.

In addition, the couple used recycled materials whenever possible. Look closely at the wooden tables: They’re made from old doors taken from Boulder’s Casey Junior High during its remodel. The chairs came from an auction. Wood flooring and many other finishes came from Resource Reclaimed Building Materials, a local business.

Salt, a bistro in Boulder, Colo., is located in the Pearl Street building that once housed Tom's Tavern.

Earth-Friendly Flavors

The handiwork of local artisans resulted in a restaurant that feels both modern and old-fashioned, European and American Western. And that’s borne out in the food: the bar “chefs” offer a selection of pre-Prohibition cocktails, and the entrees present old-world flavors suited for contemporary palates.

Sustainability isn’t just for the interior design of Salt Bistro—it’s a huge part of the restaurant’s food philosophy. The menus are built around seasonally available local food—much of it organic—in order to capture the freshest flavors.

Heap aims to raise awareness of where food comes from, and the menu lists the farm source of each menu item. In addition, the restaurant features sustainable seafood and humanely-raised meat.

As an added touch, Salt Bistro’s used cooking oil is used for biodiesel fuel.

Well-Seasoned Menu

But how does all this taste? Executive Chef Kevin Kidd pulls out the stops with fare that displays Italian and French influences with an American flair. An artisanal cheese plate spotlights local Haystack Mountain goat cheeses. The Wood-Roasted Autumn Vegetable Cassoulet features bounty from Munson Farm, while the Seven-Hour Braised Colorado Lamb with fennel risotto comes from Rosen Farm.

I personally wouldn’t miss getting a side order of Salt’s Crispy Polenta—by far the most divine I’ve ever tasted.

Salt’s menu rotates seasonally, but some things should never change. That’s why you can still get a Tom’s Tavern Burger, which Salt has gussied up with grass-fed beef, Grafton cheddar and house-made fries.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

The wood-burning oven at Salt produces innovative pizzas.