A Conversation with Chef Keith DeShields of Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa
Chef Keith DeShields is that special worldly mix of ingredients from which the best chefs are made. Raised in Bermuda by a Jamaican mother and Bermudian father who loved to cook, DeShields was exposed to the world of fine Michelin-starred dining during a 12-year stint cooking in Germany. When he returned to his home island, it was with a new focus: to get people excited about coming to Bermuda for its unique—and ever evolving—food culture. We had a chance to talk to the chef recently about the magic he’s working at Tamarisk restaurant—the signature restaurant at Cambridge Beaches Resort & Spa—and about down-home Bermudian comfort foods, too.
We’ve all heard of Pacific Rim Cuisine. But can you tell us about the Atlantic Rim Cuisine concept you created at Tamarisk?
When we decided to take Tamarisk in a different direction a few years ago, we decided to start over, completely from scratch, and do something nobody’s done before. With my background and the island’s location and diversity, we decided to take that and run with it. We are in the Atlantic and yet we are influenced by flavors from different islands—St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Jamaica, Barbados—and parts of the mainland United States and England, too. We came up with the idea for Atlantic Rim cuisine, which is a mix of many places in the region. My idea of island cuisine is that you should taste something and know exactly what is going on in two or three bites. It’s interesting to try to convince diners to try something new when they’re used to Asian cuisine or French cuisine or Pacific Rim, but they haven’t heard of Atlantic Rim cuisine. I’m pleased that the concept has caught on quite well.
One of the first things that comes to mind for me with Bermudian food is fish cakes. We have a unique way of making them. It’s a sweet and savory combination typical of island cuisine, but different. Imagine a hot cross bun with sugar and cinnamon flavors paired with a savory fish cake made with dried salted cod, potatoes, herbs, and other ingredients and then served like a burger. Everyone in Bermuda has their own fish cake recipe, with personal preferences in terms of the ratio of potato to fish. There’s even an annual fish cake competition.
Can we find it on your menus?
Our menus are always changing, but we do serve a fish cake Bermudian eggs Benedict at Tamarisk. And on Sundays, people come out for a classic island breakfast there—cod fish and potatoes. Bermuda is famous for spiny lobster, too; we think it’s the best lobster walking the ocean. But the fish I’m most excited about lately is queen snapper. It’s the best island fish I’ve worked with, it’s so tender. We serve a queen snapper with Bermuda carrot puree, green pea mousseline, and corn pudding. I get a kick out of that, it’s peas, carrots, and corn—but elevated, of course.
What’s your favorite Bermudian comfort food?
I love bread pudding, it reminds me of my dad. He’s the one who taught me to make it. It’s a classic English dessert that’s popular in Bermuda. And it’s one of those recipes that came out of necessity—made of bread that was going stale. Most recipes have sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla, and I add a little orange zest. That’s the base and you can enhance it with white rum, black rum, Baileys, whatever you like. It’s usually served with egg custard or ice cream.
What ingredients can you grow in Bermuda?
We have good soil here and many plants can thrive. There are things that can’t be brought onto the island that must be locally grown. Carrots, for example, have a permanent embargo—they can’t be imported. Any carrot you eat in Bermuda was grown here. We’re famous for Bermuda onions, a pinkish-purplish onion with a high sugar content that makes them really sweet and good. And the loquat (a plum-like fruit) is something people go crazy for here, too. You’ll see them stopping traffic to pick it. We use it at the restaurant instead of apples in a tarte tatin. I have a backyard garden at home where I grow loquats, peaches, guava, banana, basil, mint, parsley, thyme.…
When you have a day off, where do you go on the island for an authentic meal?
I love Wahoo’s Bistro & Patio in St. George’s. It’s got great Bermudian flavors and ingredients, and Bermudian staff. The thing to order is the rockfish ribs—like pork ribs, but it’s a fish. You won’t see it on the menu because it would sell out too fast. They’re cooked on a smoke grill and have this incredible flavor. You have to call and ask ahead of time if they are serving them. If they do, just go.
If you could travel any place in the world for cooking inspiration where would it be?
Believe it or not, the location is irrelevant to me. So many places have so many things to offer, and as long as I can learn something, I’ll go. Anywhere you can go and learn something authentic—the hows and the whys of what people eat and cook—it’s going to be useful. That kind of experience excites the heck out of me. And that’s also what I’m excited about in Bermuda right now. Foodies, both locals and visitors, are paying attention to what is happening here. We’re working hard to get people excited about coming here for our food.