Friday, August 7, 2015

Cooking in Belize

August has arrived and there is no doubt that it is a hot month in Belize, but that is not the kind of cooking we are talking about.  I was lucky enough this week to be granted access to Myrtle’s kitchen.  
Myrtle is the owner and cook at Jozzie’s.  Jozzie’s is her restaurant serving up authentic soul food on the shores of the Southern Lagoon in Gales Point.  If you miss this stop while in Belize you have missed a lot!  We will be partnering with Jozzie’s to not only offer cooking classes, but Myrtle will be a guest chef at Wild Canes Bar & Grill on occasion.   Wild Canes is the on-site restaurant at Leaning Palm Resort located on the shores of the Caribbean Sea.

The first thing you notice when arriving for a cooking class with Myrtle is the beauty that Myrtle likes to surround herself with. 

She is undeniably a great cook, but she has gardening mastered as well.  There are flowers and plants and beautiful vistas, and a lot of the ingredients Myrtle uses in her cooking come right from her own garden.  If not from her garden then from the jungle and her husband, Jay, is not unfamiliar with requests to fetch certain items from the jungle.  With a wife that can cook like Myrtle he is happy to oblige.  The second thing you will notice is her enthusiasm for her culture and its cuisine.

Myrtle is famous, even in the United States, for cooking authentic Belizean cuisine and she often caters for events in Gales Point.  But Myrtle likes to take things a step further and creatively weaves in specialties she learned while living outside of Belize and adds them to the authentic recipes she grew up with.  She is well-known in the village for her creative side and it is not a surprise that folks line up to buy her delicacies on a regular basis. 

So some of you may be asking why she let someone like me into her kitchen.  Even Myrtle was questioning her decision making skills, but when I showed up with my own cutting board and knife she breathed a sigh of relief.  At least I would not be destroying her cooking utensils and now she had a dishwasher at her disposal.

Our first assignment was Stewed Chicken and since this was the first assignment she kept the knives safely hidden and we focused on available spices.  She showed me how to use ground ricardo to make a marinade and eventual gravy for the chicken.  Interestingly I had seen this plant previously on a trip to Zanzibar, but there it was being used for lipstick.  Stewed chicken has a nice rich amber color in addition to its delicious flavor and capacity to tenderize the meat.

Next was Coconut Rice and this was when the big guns came out.  Well, not guns, but knives.  Myrtle grabbed her machete and was soon butchering a well-deserving coconut to extract the water and fruit to make coconut milk.  Here I learned that not any old grater will do.  It must be authentically made with old wood, old tin and a trusty nail.

Now back to the stewed chicken.  The meat had been marinating in the spices and was now ready to enter the heat.  Myrtle and her husband Jay have spent some time constructing Myrtle’s kitchen and it is fully equipped for handling all things requiring heat. 

This includes pizza which Myrtle was whipping up in the background while she taught me how to add chlorine to the dishwater so I could continue washing the dishes.

We next sat down to a wonderful meal of coconut rice, stewed chicken, fried plantain, coleslaw (not sure when she made that) and a slice of pizza.  The food was wonderful but in addition the setting was amazing making this well-kept secret of a restaurant more than magical.

Our mission complete, Myrtle sent me home with promises to cook for us in the near future.  I think she was feeling sorry for Ken.

No visit to Gales Point will be complete without a cooking class with Myrtle, but if limited on time at least a stop at her beautiful restaurant on the shores of the Southern Lagoon for some amazing authentic Belizean soul-food. 


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