Nevis enjoys the reputation of being an island paradise. Perfect for intimate getaways, a week or two of tranquillity or just a fun vacation, visitors to this small Caribbean island leave with pleasant memories. The gastronomic landscape is impressive and foodies can attest to the superb range of culinary delights that await – from local fare to 5-star chef’s choices at hotels.
An abundance of fruits and vegetables are grown on the island including 35 different varieties of mangoes. Pre-pandemic, international celebrity chefs and guests from around the world would travel to Nevis to celebrate with them during their Mango Festival.
While driving through the villages, an unmistakable smell of food wafting through the air will draw you towards the street vendors selling local dishes. It may be that a BBQ grill sitting under a coconut or mango tree surrounded by locals may pique your interest, enticing you to pause and enquire. The sight of a group of rollicking friends, huddled around a firepit grilling local delicacies while sipping on fresh-chilled coconut water, may cause you to stop for a while, just for a chat, or perhaps hoping you will be invited to sample some local fare – and you will, because the people are friendly and welcoming. You can join an unpretentious hangout at a local hot spot where your table is an old coconut tree trunk, and your seat a rustic flat-faced stone. Or later in the day, dressed in your finest attire, you can be pampered at a restaurant, a bottle of the best champagne at your disposal, eating a meal worthy of kings.
Whatever the reason or location, food has a way of bringing people together. This is obvious on Nevis and visitors get to share in that experience.
School children also partake of cuisines that delight the palate. Spearheaded by Michael Henville, Executive Chef for the School Meals Program on Nevis, daily meals at school are now eagerly anticipated, as each day brings a new culinary treat.
Forty-one-year-old Michael is a proud Nevisian. A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, after completing his Associate and Bachelor’s degrees, he lived and worked in the U.S. to gain experience intending to take it back home to Nevis. He returned to the island in 2010 and was offered the Executive Chef Position at the world-renowned Oualie Beach Resort. Then only 30 years old, this was a major accomplishment. Michael is a known name on the culinary scene, having won numerous cooking and baking competitions on the island, the most prestigious being, “The Chef of the Year Competition.”
He is now using his training and experience to reshape the nutritional landscape at local schools.
For the past six years, children have been enjoying healthy meals under Michael’s keen guidance. He approaches the task with great humility, honoured to have the opportunity to use his skills and education for the benefit of the youth. His nation’s motto is, “Country Above Self” and with the need to give back instilled in him by his hotel-manager-father and educator-mother, he is ‘giving back’ every day in his current job. This gives him immense satisfaction.
The school meal program started in the early 1990s with on-going improvements to the composition of meals provided. Recently, however, the Government placed an emphasis on portion control, consistently healthier options including vegetarian, and encouraged the use of more locally-sourced ingredients. Advice from the specialists at the World Health Organization (WHO), local doctors and nutritionists were incorporated into the program. Alliances with other countries such as Taiwan and Barbados, where ideas were exchanged on how meal programs could be improved, all resulted in a program other countries can emulate.
Typical school meal offerings are:
Pan seared salmon with lemon, kale rice, side salad, watermelon.
Stewed local curry mutton with brown rice, steamed broccoli and carrots, side salad
Local red snapper in a creole sauce, with spinach and turmeric rice, side of fruit, side salad
Vegetarian black bean burger, with sweet potato fries, side of fruit.
Grilled chicken kebabs, served with mashed green banana, sautéed vegetables, and side salad.
For many years, society considered the school meal program to be something meant only for the poorer kids in the communities. That perception has since changed as Executive Chef, Michael engages in a bit of Public Relations, promoting the program, speaking to parents directly during Parent Teacher Conferences, sharing menu ideas, and also providing them with food and nutrition tips. He visits classrooms with members of the Health Promotion Unit to educate the children about food and nutrition, play food related games, have food show-and-tells and food tastings. Every day for him is a new food adventure and he takes the children along on that journey.
Michael heaps praise on the school meals staff in each school who takes pride in knowing the likes and dislikes of their students. They have found creative ways to disguise vegetables within a meal so kids who dislike veggies won’t know they are actually having a full days’ worth in that delicious morsel they just consumed. Shhh! For example, raw vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach are ground in a food processor and mixed into sauces, or rice.
Processed foods like tomato sauce are not used – they make their own. Cassava breads, whole wheat pizza and brown rice are all on the menu. Proper seasonings are key ingredients to winning over children’s taste buds. Michael and his team, therefore, make their own special blends of seasonings, utilizing local ingredients such as: onions, bell peppers, thyme, bay leaf, onion and garlic powders and moringa powder (the tree of life).
A lot of thought and effort goes into the preparation of these meals. Michael appreciates the dedicated staff who unwaveringly helps to implement new products and never hesitates when asked to relinquish some of the older practices with which they were very familiar.
“We have significantly reduced, or all together stopped the use of deep frying for the meals program. We are embracing more baking techniques, pan sear cooking, steaming, and pureeing,” Michael explained. “We have reached out to other branches of government for their cooperation and assistance with the P\program – specifically, the Agro-Processing and Abattoir on the Island. They supply us with many excellent products such as: local mutton, pork, fish, fruit pulp to make juice, fruit puree to make fruit-pops (sugar free), cassava bread, thyme and basil bread, and tortilla shells.”
This new initiative of providing students with gourmet food goes hand in hand with teaching them about food from other countries. Their recent “Tour Around the Caribbean” and “Tour Around the World” initiatives allowed them to try the national dish of a variety of Caribbean islands, plus popular food from other countries around the world – the perfect introduction to regional and international cuisines.
By now, you will admit that Nevis’ food experiences are truly unique and never disappoints. Executive Chef, Michael Henville said proudly: “I put my Chef stamp of approval on them all”