It is unfair to put the spotlight solely on world famous chef and humanitarian José Andrés for an event that featured an incredible lineup of talented, charismatic culinary geniuses. However, there was one moment during the inaugural Nassau Paradise Island Wine and Food Festival at Atlantis Paradise Island where I found myself thinking, “This man was simply born to make people happy.”
As the Taste of Paradise event kicked off on Friday evening, chefs and prep teams at the various food and drink booths were hustling to make sure they had enough items set out for the first wave of hungry guests. Except a funny thing happened: guests weren’t really lining up just yet. A few had gathered at the Flor de Caña rum stand to try the remarkable ginger cocktail, and others were caught up in the house band’s tropical cover songs while eyeballing Chef Andrew Zimmern’s curry goat sandwiches. But it was almost like most of the attendees were waiting for permission to have fun.
So, Andrés took matters into his own hands—literally. He grabbed a few plates from his Fish booth and served them to guests at empty tables, all while stopping to take photos with anyone who asked. And if they didn’t ask? He suggested it. I’m not sure anyone else noticed this amusing display of generosity and hospitality, but to me it was a shining example of the overall focus on hospitality, and a sign of the things to come.
A Little More than a Food Festival
Bahamians love celebrating food, so it seems like there’s a festival or party worth attending every week. The question I had coming into this event was: How will this one set itself apart from the rest? I quickly realized the answer was personality. And that should have been expected from the remarkable list of celebrity chefs joining Andrés for this five-day affair.
The festivities began with a rum walking tour on Wednesday morning in downtown Nassau, followed by a sunset dinner cruise and Wine Down Wednesday event in the iconic Bridge Suite. On Thursday, Michelin-starred Chef Michael White kicked off the culinary adventures with a master class and lunch, before Zimmern paired his unique charm with wine and dinner for an intimate affair in Casa D’Angelo.
If Wednesday’s and Thursday’s events were an appetizer, Friday and Saturday delivered a wildly fulfilling multi-course affair that was so action-packed that guests probably had to make some tough decisions. Stay too long and party into the night at Friday’s Tacos and Tequila with Chef Aarón Sánchez and DJ Kim Lee and it might be tough making it to Zimmern’s Saturday morning culinary demo—especially if a few laps on the lazy river are necessary to launch the day. And with demos and parties popping off every half hour on Saturday, it was as difficult to choose as it was to map out a calorie-burning gym schedule for the following week.
Chef Alex Guarnaschelli hosted lunch and a wine tasting at Ocean’s Edge, while Chef JJ Johnson, Zimmern’s co-host for A Taste of Paradise, took over the Atlantis Theatre for a culinary demo, as did Sánchez and Guarnaschelli later in the day, followed by Duff Goldman’s Sunday showcase and a “Best of the Bahamas” celebration. Goldman also hosted a Saturday ice cream social that one seven-year-old attendee described to me as “the greatest thing ever,” as well as a late-night dessert party that an adult guest told me was “downright decadent.”
And if visitors missed those opportunities to enjoy the legendary pastry chef’s guilty pleasures, there was also the Sweet and Savory Brunch on Sunday morning—late enough for anyone who spent the night dancing to Wyclef Jean’s energetic Jerk Jam performance—followed by Goldman’s own culinary demo to close out the entire festival. If anyone deserved a day or two to unwind after it all, it was him—and he was eventually spotted on his own lazy river adventure by Monday afternoon.
The Menu and the Message
Picking a favorite event is also unfair, because Saturday technically started with a bucket list Coffee and Conversation session starring Andrés and Zimmern. The good friends shared a few stories from their careers but mostly discussed Andrés’ incredible journey from his humble beginnings to his current humanitarian efforts that many people believe have earned him a Nobel Prize or two before it’s all said and done.
Hopping from that hour-long conversation to Zimmern’s culinary demo was such an amazing experience for me, not just as someone who loves to cook and incorporate ingredients from my own travels, but also as someone who loves to hear stories from everyone’s travel experiences. Though, even as I loved hearing Zimmern share his adventures and especially the lessons he has learned, it was the message on his induction cooktop that really stuck.
The audience laughed, cheered, and asked plenty of questions as he put on a steaming showcase, making pork dumplings and red snapper with a special sauce. All the while, the master of sustainability showed us how every aspect of every ingredient on the table would not go to waste. The snapper’s tail that had to be chopped off to fit the fish in the steamer? Saved for seafood stock. The peels from the ginger used in the sauce? Part of the snapper’s broth. Even when giddy audience members tried to play, “Gotcha!,” he had an answer. And it was never heavy-handed, only inspirational. That’ll go a long way in helping people pick up great habits at home.
Zimmern also invited another good friend, superstar and “The Modern Mixologist” Tony Abou-Ganim, to teach us all a simple recipe for the classic sidecar. This was especially helpful for me, a huge fan of the Nobu Sidecar in the Atlantis restaurant, because I have never been able to successfully replicate it at home. At least now I have video of a crash course from the master.
What’s to Come?
There’s little doubt that an event this successful, with so many sold-out experiences from amazing, generous celebrity chefs, will produce an encore in 2024. Traveling foodies who missed out on this year’s fun—or chose to skip it for the Lizzo concert the following weekend—can expect next year’s festival to take place around the same time, but the lineup will remain a delightful mystery.
Sometimes when the inaugural party is so wonderful, the second act can feel like a step down. A resort like Atlantis Paradise Island already throws a great party any time of year, so it’s safe to assume the powers that be won’t settle for anything less than bigger, better, and far more delicious.
Seeing Andrés make the rounds in Fish on Saturday evening, prior to the Jerk Jam, and once again offering to take photos with starstruck guests, it became clear that it’s not really a matter of how these chefs can build on this inaugural event. It’s simply about how they can continue to entertain and educate, all while providing smiles and memories for the guests.