Top Chef Monica Hutchinson in Nassau
Hanging out in Nassau writing this blog, I get to meet a lot of movers and shakers. Which means, I get to hear to hear what’s abuzz in this burgeoning island capital. So lend me your ear as I pick you the latest juicy fruits off the Nassau Grapevine…
Cos’ I hear a little sip sip that Top Food Personality Monica Hutchinson has moved to town and is working with local production company Clouds Image. I hear rumblings they’re looking to partner with the authority in Bahamas Real Estate, HG Christie, on a food show combining incredible food with beautiful properties. It all sounded pretty tasty so I made a few calls…
Et voila! Fresh from the oven – my Q&A with Monica Hutchinson and Camille & Kino Thurston, founders of Clouds Image:
Monica, what is the allure of The Bahamas for you as a Top Food Stylist, Culinary Producer and TV Chef?
Obviously the beautiful views, but I also feel like its so vibrant here! There’s a lot of opportunity. I came here four years ago for my dream job as Culinary Producer for Top Chef All Stars and that was probably one of the hardest jobs I ever had to do, so the fact that I’m here is kind of funny because when I wrapped that show I said “Wow! Never again!”
Just getting food onto the island is hard, making sure that you get the best quality of ingredients for the chefs was very challenging. But its beautiful here, so all the backdrops were stunning. We went out to Rose Island to Sandy Toes for the Deserted Island episode and it was just fantastic – what an amazing place!
Was Top Chef the first show you did in The Bahamas?
No, I originally came into 2009 to work with Bobby Flay at his Mesa Grill restaurant at Atlantis. I spent the whole two weeks at Atlantis and then a year later I got the call to do Top Chef and I thought “I’ve already been there,” but then I actually got to travel around the islands and really experience the beauty and culture of The Bahamas and…I fell in love! So here I am living in Nassau. I think you have to get out and about and get to meet Bahamian people to really appreciate the magic.
Talking about great Bahamian people, how did you end up working with Clouds Image?
(Monica) I always questioned why nobody was shooting a cooking show here as its so beautiful. My dream was to get involved with a local production company and produce a Bahamian show. So one day I saw a post that Clouds Image was looking for a host and I got in touch…
(Camille Thurston) We took down the post immediately after Monica got in touch! We’d been hoping to catch her attention so we were delighted – time to take down the casting call! That’s it. Absolutely perfect.
(Monica) Well, we met and it was just a great chemistry. Camille and Kino are great people and so clued in – we just really hit if off! It was meant to be.
So, what’s the scoop? Are you producing a Bahamian Food Show?
(Camille) Well that’s actually why we’re in conversation with HG Christie…In May we pitched the idea for our show to John Christie and his team of 30 agents and they were all very excited…HG Christie has a reputation as being the name in luxury real estate in the Bahamas and that’s exactly the kind of strategic partner that we need. We want to produce a high quality show for international networks, and for that we will need fabulous properties from which to host…I think once we find the right property, we will know how to move forward with the show.
Anything else you can reveal at this stage about the show?
(Kino Thurston) I can give you some of the ingredients but I can’t give away the whole dish (laughs)… you’ll have fantastic real estate and you’ll have great cooking, lifestyle and travel – that’s about all I can reveal at this stage! We have a very unique concept that is really catchy; I cant wait until we get shooting…
(Monica) I think it’s a different way to show people The Bahamas with all these incredible locations and properties and some local cooking…and of course the most social room is the kitchen – that’s what sells the house!
(Camille) A little bit of home entertainment with an island flair! Hopefully that’s enough to tease you!
I’m definitely teased! Can you tell me which islands you’ll be featuring?
(Kino) We’re starting in Nassau because that’s the capital and that’s where everything is, but we want to branch out to the Family Islands of course – that’s where the real beauty lies. People from all over the world really need to see those islands to appreciate the full scope of The Bahamas.
Monica, you talked about the challenges of sourcing good quality local ingredients. Do you feel the situation has improved in the 5 years you’ve been coming here?
Yes, the situation had changed a fair bit with the opening of Solomon’s Freshmarket – there’s more access to fresh produce. Of course I really try to support local farming and fishing but its still very expensive. So the trend that’s in the states, the local farm or sea to table that everyone is doing is really quite challenging here. There are a few local organic farms already well established in Nassau such as Goodfellow and Lucayan Tropical and a few community farms popping up like Field to Fork. The challenge will be to make the prices accessible to regular people.
I’m really hoping that more restaurants open up and support local farmers and fishermen. I think its doable, it will just take a certain commitment.
Tell me about your involvement with Hands For Hunger
This year its going to be a bigger event called Paradise Plates in the Grand Ballroom at Atlantis and they’re actually going to pause the event to focus on my demo, which is very exciting!
Last year we did a Rescued Food Challenge, which meant I had to make a dish with food that we “rescued” before it went to waste from restaurants and supermarkets. It was a great opportunity to explain to people the importance of being frugal and how you can transform what some people might consider garbage into fantastic dishes. For my demo, I got stuck with donuts! I made them into bread pudding with a bacon jam that was really pretty good!
Being based out of Nassau, do you still do much work in the States?
Yes, I’m a freelancer so Nassau is pretty convenient for hopping back and forth. One of the shows I’m working on now is based out of Nashville; it’s called Kimberley Simply Southern. We’ve been producing that for three seasons now and hoping to go into a fourth.
It’s great to have a Foodie of your calibre on the island. Do you feel like you can have an educational influence here?
Yes!I think I’m probably the only Food Stylist and Food Producer on the island, which gives me an opportunity to get involved with culinary schools. I’d like to show young Bahamian chefs that there are more options than just working in a hotel, which is the general stereotype here. I’d like to show budding chefs that you can write cookbooks, develop recipes, write for magazines, style food, be a culinary producer – there’s just so much out there! Ten years ago someone told me I should be a Food Stylist and I said, “what’s that?” – now I want to give that same opportunity back.
Read More about Monica Hutchinson
Hot off the Press – Monica Hutchinson to Open a New Restaurant in Downtown Nassau!
Monica contacted me after our interview to tell me about a new restaurant in downtown Nassau, for which she will be Executive Chef. “Its going to be a fun and casual place with great contemporary Bahamian dishes served as “sharable plates.” We are looking to open this fall and will be revealing the name of the restaurant at Paradise Plates this September, so come on down to Atlantis!” she says.
See Monica’s Food Demo at Paradise Plates on September 27th, Atlantis Ballroom