(Published in Flava magazine, issue 2, 2014)
A delicious new retreat has opened its doors on Cayman Brac, embracing the farm-to-table movement in every sense of the word.
Standing on the Bluff looking out at verdant vegetable boxes and flowering fruit trees heavy with Mother Nature’s bounty, it’s hard to imagine that just a few years ago this plot of land was impenetrable bush.
Now, thanks to the efforts of the team at Le Soleil d’Or, Cayman Brac’s newest boutique retreat, this20-acre piece of land has been lovingly transformed into an award-winning farm which provides a steady harvest of sun-ripened fruits, herbs and vegetables throughout the year.
Le Soleil d’Or, translated as Golden Sun, is the brainchild of a New York-based business woman who grew up on a farm in Europe. With a focus on offering a sustainable hands-on gourmet experience, Le Soleil d’Or is attracting a new breed of tourists to the Brac’s shores – the culinary adventurer.
The property includes two high-end private villas perched right on the water’s edge, with a four-bedroom boutique hotel set to open imminently. Here, guests can enjoy farm-fresh produce prepared by Le Soleil d’ Or’s very own team of private chefs, participate in cooking classes held in the professional kitchen, be pampered with spa products which are handmade with herbs and flowers direct from the garden farm, enjoy a training session in the state-of-the art gym, or simply kick-back and relax.
With a focus on all things culinary, the garden farm is the property’s showpiece, a source of pride and joy. Breathtakingly beautiful and meticulously planned out it includes more than 300 species of fruit trees and vegetables offering a vast array of delectable produce, as well as ornamental plants that nestle amidst handcrafted stone walls and meandering pathways that overlook the Caribbean Sea. Promoting a true garden-to-table experience, guests are free to roam the garden farm and pick their own produce for whatever culinary experience they have in mind.
Tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, herbs, lemons, oranges, avocado, watermelon, string beans, pumpkins, cucumbers, papayas, pomegranate and mangos, in addition to a host of leafy greens such as bok choy, arugula, lettuce and Chinese cabbage fill the garden. Many varieties, such as calamondine limes, have never been grown in Cayman. More unusual finds – for a Caribbean island, at least – include olives, grapes, cashew trees and raspberries. Future varieties are set to include vanilla, prickly pear, coco trees and edible tropical flowers.
This fresh pantry has been a true labor of love. Indeed, it took the team two years to clear the bush, fill the gaping limestone crevices and map out the garden. And while some plants have flourished in the Caribbean sun, many varieties have had to be lovingly coaxed and tended to carefully in order to grow in the Brac’s harsh climate.
Alongside the carefully tended crops, the garden farm also includes fowl for both egg and poultry production – there are currently around 100 broilers and 30 egg laying hens – and plans are afoot to include pigs for specialty smoked and cured meats, milking goats for cheese production, and bees, which will not only provide honey, but will also help assist with crop pollination.
“We are constantly experimenting with new varieties like eggplant, tomatoes and peppers, to name a few, to find the perfect species for the Brac’s climate that will satisfy the most discerning palate,” a company spokesperson says.
As well as cooking up delectable meals for guests, the farm’s bounty is also turned into a wide number of gourmet delicacies including jams, jellies, pickles, handmade cheese, teas, spices and sauces.
It is these delicious treats which greet guests as they arrive at their sumptuous home-from-home in a welcome basket along with a fridge stocked with delectable freshly-made juices and gourmet eats – a welcome treat for world-weary travelers.
Le Soleil d’Or’s cooking classes are held in the alfresco Gazebo Kitchen and include Moroccan, Asian, Mediterranean and Caribbean cuisines. The kitchen includes all the tools of a professional kitchen, such as an Italian ‘Forno’ Oven, chocolatier’s equipment, a commercial ice cream machine, smokers and grills.
Guests can learn to roast organic chicken, cook freshly caught fish, prepare a delicious farm-fresh salad, make homemade ice cream or even try their hand at making their very own gourmet chocolates. Open to guests and corporate groups, Le Soleil d’Or is also working with the Department of Agriculture to start a program for local children to learn about farming and help promote a greater connection and appreciation for sustainable food production and nutrition.
“Good quality fruits and veggies are very hard to source on Cayman Brac on a regular basis. Our main goal is to provide our clients with the highest quality, fresh produce in varieties that are not typically available in the Brac,” Le Soleil d’Or’s spokesperson says.
“There is a real movement in Grand Cayman spearheaded by progressive chefs and grocers to utilize local fresh ingredients. They realize the importance of knowing how our food is being produced and by whom.
“The integrity of the U.S. supplied and mass produced fruits, vegetables and meat has highlighted major public health and ethical concerns over the past few years. We wanted to be able to produce the most nutritious, natural and best variety of foods locally to ensure a consistent supply for our clients and our handmade retail products like soaps, teas, spices and preserves.”
While currently the garden farm is primarily open to guests or for arranged tours, the team at Le Soleil d’Or hopes to open it up to the wider community, with a farmers market scheduled to open shortly.
“We are currently considering expanding to sell wholesale and retail so that the greater community can enjoy a high quality and greater variety of produce available all the time,” a company spokesperson adds.