Cayman-Bajan chef Lydia Ray gives plantains “starring role” status | Loop Cayman Islands

The content originally appeared on: Cayman Compass

Chef Lydia Ray of Powder Monkey Gourmet Treats Ltd— a Cayman-based gourmet producer of homemade flavored marshmallows, plantain chips, and other gourmet treats– believes that Caribbean people “need to rethink plantains.”

Chef Lydia, whose hails from Barbados but has lived in the Cayman Islands for many years, believes in the goodness of locally-grown foods and sees the “fine dining” potential in plantain which she says has been relegated to “side dish” status for far too long. It is with this premise that she has set out on a mission to demonstrate the many starring roles that the staple can take.

This point was certainly made at her recent “Plantain Experience” which took place in the stunning meeting facilities of the Jasmine Hospice on West Bay Road; it was in the comfort of this most beautiful indoor farm to table-esque setting that diners were treated to a variety of dishes in which plantain took a starring– and extremely elegant role.

In addition to their historical significance as the first fruit crop in the world (along with bananas) having come to the Caribbean during slavery, but originating in Southeast Asia in 8000-5000 BC, plantains are a strategically important crop to the region. With their delicious flavor, soil-friendly cultivation, regional abundance, climate resilience, nutritional value and role in culinary culture, plantains have a great deal of potential as a player in Caribbean food security, but if they are to do so, their role must be upgraded beyond that of just a side or a snack.

“The Plantain Experience was my love song to this amazing yet underrated produce,” says Chef Lydia, who has been traveling the world for many years, perfecting her culinary skills in exotic locations. “It was an experience designed to give foodies, explorers and plantain lovers a whole new appreciation for the deliciousness that is plantain.”

And that it did.

“Lydia and Powder Monkey Gourmet Treats continue to test the boundaries of Cayman’s culinary offerings,” said Chef Lydia’s husband Mark Ray, Cayman’s Director of Education, who opened the evening with a poignant and amusing speech about Chef Lydia’s journey to The Plantain Experience.

Said the doting husband of his wife’s passion for the culinary arts:

It was the combination of recipes learned in Barbados, mixed with dishes she was exposed to in Cayman, all seasoned with the delicious treats she sampled in her travels as a teenager and young adult, that led to Lydia’s love for cooking, baking and culinary experimentation, similar to a mad scientist.

Well, the science behind Chef Lydia’s first plantain-themed pop-up event simply worked.

The 5 course menu began with Ghanaian Kelewele, a fried plantain dish with ginger, spices, onions and jalapenos, followed by green plantain soup with the most delectable combination of savory plantain chips and sweet plantain bits topped with papaya seeds. Third course featured pizza with moringa plantain puree (with a cashew cheese and bammy- cassava-version for the vegan and gluten intolerant) and for the finale, Chef Lydia showed that no part of the plantain should ever go to waste with a side of pickled plantain skin coupled with Bajan-style curried mahi mahi on lemongrass jasmine rice. A mouthwatering desert of plantain flour waffle discs topped with ice cream and a sorrel reduction followed a lemon sorbet palate cleanse.

To drink, guests enjoyed Bajan mauby (made from the bark of the mauby tree, with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves), fresh guava and sorrel juice. The spirit of choice paid ultimate homage to Chef Lydia’s heritage– Taylor’s Velvet Falernum rum, first created in 1890of sugar cane, lime, almond and cloves from Barbados’ Foursquare Rum Distillery.

The biggest surprises of the night? The use of papaya seeds in the soup and the scrumptious pickled plantain skin. I couldn’t get enough of the texture and delicious flavor- not to mention the zero waste ethos behind the recipe.

Parting gifts included Chef Lydia’s signature plantain chips and homemade humus.

This beautiful night was delicious, environmentally friendly and filled with so much passion and love. Personal anecdotes shared by the Chef were the perfect complement to the family vibe of the farm to table setting and everyone was happy to hear that the “mad scientist” plans to continue expanding her plantain vision with more offerings and events.

So what’s next on Chef Lydia’s busy schedule? She will be feeding attendees at the upcoming Caribbean Masterclass Female Leadership Retreat, in a powerful session on “Mindful Eating.” Herself and other local leaders such as Natalie Urquhart, Director of the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, Georgi-Ann Morgan, Music Therapist, Nikita Kissoon, Financial Controller at Republic Bank (Cayman) Ltd. and Angela Pretorius, Head of Audit HLB Berman Fisher, will delight and inspire an all-woman audience at Rum Point Residences on May 16.

If you’d like to get in touch with Chef Lydia, she can be reached at [email protected] .