Malcolm Jolley on Craig Harding’s appearance at the Barbados Food & Rum Festival.
Chef Craig Harding is on a roll. His acclaimed Dundas Street West restaurant Campagnolo is an established six year old attraction in the Toronto fine dining scene and he’s set to open a second spot. It will be called La Palma, and Harding says it will be more casual than Campagnolo, open for lunch and located across the street. This way, the chef can keep an eye on both spots and continue to be a part of the rejuvenation of Little Portgual. He’s also teamed up with Bestellen chef Rob Rossi to shoot a television show for TLN that will see the two of them eating their way across Canada in celebration of the country’s 150th birthday in 2017. On top of all this, Harding found himself in Barbados recently as a headliner for the Food & Rum Festival. He was one of two chefs invited from outside of Barbados, the other being New York City’s Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
Harding, it turns out, has a profile in Barbados as this year was his second visit to the festival. He even managed to make the front page of the local paper on the Saturday I met him with a small pool of Canadian journalists in Barbados to cover the culinary festival and scene. He answered questions and chatted about Italian and Caribbean food with us at the luxurious and food focused Crane Resort. That evening he was to cook his festival meal in collaboration with local chef Jason Howard at the hotel’s L’Azure restaurant. Harding was in good spirits and excited about the meal and working with local ingredients. The Caribbean cuisine that Harding had found in Barbados and was working with for the evening’s dinner, he explained, had much in common with the Italian cooking he learned from his grandmother. The chef explained, “tradition and family recipes are the key.”
At the dinner, at The Crane’s L’Azure restaurant, Harding moved from table to table in the sold-out dining room, explaining the dishes as they came out. Two dishes really stood out. First, a crudo of Barbadian amberjack dressed with typical island vegetables: melon, baby pumpkin and (of course) Scotch bonnet peppers. Second a gnocchi dish that incorporated Chef Howard’s family recipe for oxtail stew (Harding swore his only addition was “a little bit of tomato”) and gnocchi made with cassava root. The cassava, which can be seen growing by the side of the road all over Barbados, gave the gnocchi a perfectly pillowy, yet slightly chewy texture, a lovely foil for the deep, dark rich meat ragu. The gnocchi were a big hit with the room of locals and tourists. I heard someone ask Harding if it was difficult for him to adapt to Barbadian ingredients and techniques. He smiled, nodded his head to say no and explained, “All cooking comes from the same place.”