Virgin Islands

It all started when Eve announced she would be going to China after winning a scholarship from her school, MIT, to help a private development improve biodiversity. In the months following her announcement, I had been planning to come with her, however the greatly anticipated opening of my restaurant "The Laughing Man" owned by Hugh Jackman in Tribeca was preventing me from booking a ticket. I would call David, the other owner of the space on Duane St, an existing coffee shop that wanted to expand into food (thats where I come in) and ask him if the construction would not be finished until after the trip. "I don't know, and we just don't think it's a good idea for you to leave right now in case we need you to train the chefs and get things rolling." Needless to say I could not book the ticket. Coincidentally my friend Roman was booked to fly to the Virgin Islands on the same day Eve was going to China. The night before they both left, I made the call, and bought a ticket to the Virgin Islands with Roman (I couldn't go to China because a visa takes months of preparation.) He was stoked that I was going, and I was excited to be going somewhere new. Roman had been here many times before and told me about some friends he had, how wonderful it was, and that I needed to go. The trip was smooth and quick, and before we knew it we were on a boat heading from the main island with the airport (St. Thomas) to our final destination: St. John. On the boat I learned some interesting and disturbing history about how half of the islands were owned by Great Britain and that the island we landed on was very poor and had lots of crime. Apparently there were still tensions between the whites and blacks as well, go figure after years of slavery and sugar cane farming on the islands. Once on the island, we camped on his friends property, rented a little jeep, drove absolutely crazy left lane dangerous mountain cliff side roads, ate at a floating taco bar, and had a great time. As usual I dug into the history, and discovered a strong West Indian presence here that dated back to the days of early slavery. Empanadas, a special turmeric and chili hot sauce, soup with coconut dumplings, and curry were some of the things that I discovered here. In the end, people seemed to get along here although they were mostly segregated. Local people had their area where they cooked their traditional foods, and the white settlers had million dollar mansions perched on the side of picturesque cliffs, with more familiar western comfort foods. There is no doubt racial tension and segregation here, although from years of getting used to it the people seem to be happy enough. I mean what can you say about most businesses being owned by whites, and most workers being black? There is an air of futility about it, and after all the modern day white settlers seem to have good intentions for the communities. It was heart warming to connect with some of these local people and eat their foods. Even though in the grand scheme of things it does not mean much, I received some bemused smiles and looks of confusion at the white boys (us) eating in the local restaurants. Then when they would see me the next day, and the next day after that, the confusion would turn slowly into friendliness, then kindness, then love. I love food because it is one of the ways we can all connect past racial and financial inequality. The price of one salt cod empanada, $2. To have a West Indian mother greet me in her kitchen like family in front of her confused neighbors, priceless. We made lots of friends, in particular two sisters who let us stay on their beachfront property in our tents. We grilled outside with them, and I cooked steaks and sweet potatoes to show our appreciation for their hospitality. We will definitely return one day, and this time I will bring back a whole duffel bag of that tumeric hotsauce.