We opened the restaurant facility on the 19th of December, only a week behind schedule (Three Phase installation was more challenging than perceived). The decor has been enhanced by a set of fabulous oil paintings of the local endemic Ebony plant. These have been loaned to us by Michel Martineau and his partner JJ who also gave advice on the colour scheme and how to make something look fantaistic with minimal resources!
We have signed up around 25 trainees of all ages and requirements. Some will go the full term and start a formal qualification as soon as we can get one off the ground, others are looking to top up their skills and learn food and beverage skills from a Five Star Perspective.
The numbers so far are above our predictions which is fantastic, there have also been approaches from local businesses and the hospital to ask whether they could hook up to some of our training sessions.
Our menu is simple and relies on best quality ingredients, preferably local, which are paired with other ingredients in order to enhance the overall dish. It changes with availability of items although at the moment
we are doing pretty well with lovely local beans, beetroot and tomatoes.
Here is an example:
Hummus with crudités
Tomato and local Thyme Soup
Smooth Chicken Liver Pate
Pan fried Rump Steak with creamy mash, beans and carrots
Local Tuna with Sauce Vierge and Cauliflower puree
Butternut Pilaf with black beans and Avocado
Fudgy Chocolate Cake
Rice Pudding with nectarines
Passion Fruit trifle
Julia training up table settings
As the trainees become more confident (and more equipment arrives from the UK) so we will increase the number of choices on the menu and guests in the restaurant (at the moment we are taking around 18 persons a night). We have only been open for five nights so far and have received excellent feedback, not only from the
customers but from our trainees.
Long may this continue!
My arrival in October seems many moons ago; in fact it has been only two months!
In that short time we have been setting the foundations for the upskilling of Saints who want to work in the hospitality industry.
This has been done by the creation of a small training restaurant which will pave the way for a larger more permanent training centre.
It was fortunate that a number of offices in Jamestown were being vacated in early November and one of them was perfect for a temporary training centre. The idea has always been to create a centre as a place to inspire people to work in the hospitality sector. This is because not only is it a great industry to work in for those with the need for full time work or a career. Many staff who work in the many hotels, bars and restaurants world over are part time and these are the folk who sometimes miss out on appropriate training.
With that in mind we set about planning the physical aspects of the building, setting up the format for the restaurant,
recruiting trainees and managing the many other aspects of starting up a new business.
Front room of the restaurant showing entrance
The journey from then to now has not always been a smooth one as the logistics of getting things onto an island 1500 miles from anywhere were just one part of the jigsaw.
Other snags included:
· Not enough paint of the right colour on the island for the restaurant walls…we mixed some up!
· Not having any decent halogen light fittings on the island, so carpenter Mark made some out of MDF
· Not having a safe staircase down into the basement of the building, again thanks to Mark who made a great staircase in less than a week!
· Sourcing tables, chairs, crockery & cutlery locally, many, many thanks to Hazel at the Consulate Hotel who has loaned us much of the equipment to get started and to all who have helped get this show on the road
· Getting enough refrigeration to hold food for the times between the ship’s visits
· Having to install a hot water system into the building and other plumbing nightmares, thanks to Dave Marr from Scarborough!
· Getting a cooker from Johannesburg to Cape Town in time for the RMS to carry it over here and getting it through the door once it arrived!
· Parts for the Three Phase Electric only available on Ascension Island 700 miles away
· Getting the cooker connected with permission from the authorities BEFORE CHRISTMAS!
When I look back on all this I cannot believe that we have gone from office to functioning restaurant in 8weeks!
Perhaps the pictures tell the story better.
After the best part of three months at sea the container with my belongings in it finally arrived in St Helena.
It should have only taken around six weeks but things came to a halt in Cape Town due to high seas which prevented containers being offloaded from the ship they arrived on from Tilbury.
So it missed the RMS to St Helena and had to sit on the dock side in Cape Town until the next sailing almost a month later.
Better late than never, in early December I was informed that my container had been deposited on the Jamestown Wharf and to go down to have it cleared by customs.
Anticipation was mounting by the second as not only did the container have household effects in it but also my car which I had been in two minds as to whether to send it down here.
Is this a VW Jetta?
It was a hot sunny afternoon and the wharf was full of people, cars, trucks and of course containers! The container’s arrival had coincided with the St Helena Christmas shipments, whether presents from afar or cranberry sauce and crackers from Tesco.
Talking of Tesco, it reminded me of the pre Christmas Tesco rush!
It took a while to fine a customs agent who was free and then a little longer to find a man with some heavy duty cutters to take the seal off the container.
Eventually the contents were revealed. As I hadn’t packed the container I had no idea how it was going to look when opened, especially since the communication about delays due to high seas off Cape Town. Where was my car? On first inspection it didn’t seem to be there as my belongings had been piled around it. Peeking over the chairs which were perched on the outside I could just make out the familiar silver of my VW.
A couple of hours later the car had been extracted from its temporary home and was handed over to one of the local garages for an MOT and to turn it into a St Helena Plated vehicle rather than a UK registered one.
Inspecting it closely revealed a few scratches and a small dent but it started first time and I am happy to say is in good working order.
It has taken me the best part of a month to unpack (yes I probably brought too much stuff) and now I am pleased to say my little rented house looks more comfortable and homely and almost ready for my husband’s arrival in February.
I had been told earlier that that one year the island's Easter Egg supply didnt arrive until June owing to bad weather delays so I guess I had been lucky!
Walking to the Ponds
The walk is around 3 miles each way of which 50% is uphill. The terrain is the bare volcanic rock which is spectacular for the myriad of colours it comes in, although keep focused as it’s quite treacherous underfoot!
Although not perfect for picture taking, the light grey sky meant temperatures were bearable, imagine the heat from these rocks if the sun was streaming down on them all day!
Around 20 minutes up the first section of the journey my breath was starting to become more pronounced and from then to the top I had to rest every now and then. My companions included two children, one only five years old who zipped up the rocks like a mountain goat. I was mortified!
Views are spectacular and the sea crashing below can be heard even at the highest elevation. Nesting Booby birds were one of the highlights, we came across one pair nursing their offspring.
Boobie birds with their chick
Reaching the ponds involved scaling down a long rope which deposited you on a deserted beach with streams, rock stacks and the ponds. It was well worth the pain
(although I think I was the only person feeling any!) .
Arriving in this surreal landscape I was taken by the fact that we were the only visitors that day. If this was in the UK the place would be teeming with photgraphy buffs and sightseers. I think this place is always going to be like this unless they change the access to it which in many ways I hope they dont. There wasnt a scrap of rubbish on the beach nor any noise other than the crashing of the waves. A gentle warmth radiated from the dark rocks making the idea of a swim pretty tempting.
After an hour or so relaxing with a picnic and taking pictures we headed back up the rope ladder and made it back up the rocks, past the Booby birds, endemic plants and down the other side.
Boy was I glad to see the vehicles. The pictures I have taken don’t meet the standard of the one in the Tourist office which means another trip, I best get into practice!
RMS St Helena Departing Cape Town July 30th 2012
I set off on this expedition from Heathrow on a warm July day, one of the very few we have had this year. After a delay of a couple of hours due to the plane being too hot to board, (yes it was too hot to get onto the plane as the air conditioning was only working in one area of the aircraft) we headed for Cape Town.
Almost 24 hours after arriving in Cape Town I was going through the now familiar boarding process onto the RMS St Helena. The ship had just returned from its annual makeover in the Cape Town Dry Dock. A few people had mentioned
that sometimes the ship gets delayed on her first sail after dry dock, and yes we were: One of the cranes had decided to play up and was refusing to work. This could have had catastrophic results if it happened in St Helena as the cranes are the only way to get all baggage and supplies off the ship and onto dry land.
Eventually we set off 24 hours later in perfect conditions.
Viewing St Helena for the third time from the deck of the RMS was just as beguiling as the first time.
The excitement is almost visible as families prepare to be reunited, some having been apart for years, tears are shed and not just from those meeting loved ones!
Work this time round is in the Castle which is the home of the St Helena Government.
I am working with a team who are looking at the whole of Government in the context of standardising processes and procedures and modernising some areas. My role is to look at the customer service aspects of the project and to deliver some training. The work is very absorbing and time is just flying by.
Getting Ready for Pizza!
Saturday night was spent in the company of Michel Martineau, his partner JJ, 11 guests and a wood burning Bread Oven!
Michel and JJ had installed the oven 7 years ago but had never used it. Anyone who knows me will acknowledge that I have always wanted one of these ovens and the only reasons I haven’t taken the plunge is that in the UK, our weather and my working patterns (never at home) precludes the cost and time to build one.
So it was my extreme pleasure to have the opportunity to practice on Michel, JJ and their guests with wood oven baked Pizzas.
JJ lit the oven at lunchtime and fed it stack after stack of wood. We knew it was getting warm when the paint around the oven started to blister and the chimney started to smell like something chemical was burning!
4kg of bread dough started to have attitude problems toward the end of the afternoon when it had been punched down for the third time: It wanted to get cooking!
I realise I have a training need when it comes to flattening dough into a Pizza base. There was no way I could get the dough flat without the aid of a rather heavy rolling pin which kind of spoilt the effect. No twirling a ball of dough on my hand until flat as done in Naples!
When it was time to cook we trundled fillings and bases close to the oven where guests were invited to create their own Pizzas. The oven could only manage one Pizza at a time, possibly due to my portion control or lack of it.
11 Pizzas later and the oven could still manage to bake 6 small loaves of bread which looked a treat. The overall verdict was positive from our guests, there were a few burnt bits and some topping which slid into the oven when dislodging the pizza from its peel (the shovel you slide the pizza into the oven with) but generally the oven did us proud and I would like to have one even more now!
Napoleon Bonaparte died in St Helena on May 5th 1821 The day is commemorated in a number of Gallic enclaves including the original tomb of Napoleon. He was buried here and then some years later the French Government of the day requested that his body was repatriated to France. The remembrance ceremony on St Helena was a simple affair with the local honorary French Consul Monsieur Michel Dancoisne-Martineau leading the occasion. Prayers were said and the last post was sounded followed by a laying of wreaths by France the UK and St Helena. I was impressed by the location of the Tomb and how peaceful the surroundings are, no wonder this is where Napoleon requested he be buried.
Later that week we expected the arrival of another cruise ship, this time the MV Athena who had sailed from Australia to be with us. The seas that day were more choppy than when the P&O ship the Arcadia visited and failed to let its passengers disembark. This indicated there may be another occasion when all the efforts made by the locals were to no avail. We should have known better!
The Australian spirit of adventure was alive and well in the shape of tenders full to the brim with eager tourists. Looking at the tenders one could see they had a few knocks and scuffs on them which should have alerted us that these tourists had every intention of landing. And land they did. Five hundred or so feisty Australians with ages ranging from 40 to 85 were taken on tours around the island, served meals and drinks and sold souvenirs. Feedback from them was very positive considering they only had around five hours to sample the delights of St Helena. No sooner had they arrived than they were gone.
Yellowfin Tuna and Thresher Shark
My final weekend on St Helena had a treat in store with the annual fishing competition. This gives all the opportunity to see the wide variety of fish available in these seas around the island and also gives the fishing community a chance to pit their wits against each other to hook the largest catch. All fishing was from boats which were given from Midnight until 4.00pm to catch whatever they could. All fishing is done by rods and line. The day culminates with awards for biggest fish, biggest annual catch, biggest catch of the day and a host of other trophies. Following on from this there is a great party which must have attracted half the island. The largest catch was a thresher shark although I have no idea whether it was a large version of that species; it was certainly the biggest shark I have seen out of the water. Other fish caught included Conger eel, Yellowfin tuna, Grouper and bullseye which is a local fish and bright red in colour. It was a great afternoon with heaps of sights, sounds and smells. Very memorable.
I am writing this blog on my way to Ascension Island from where I am flying back to the UK. This is the only other commercial route home and will be a first for me. I left my St Helena friends on the quayside vowing to see them all again in August when I return for another tour of duty. The RMS St Helena sailed at 4.00pm which meant the afternoon light was just beginning to colour, making our departure quite memorable. It was as if the island was putting on a final show for those departing.
St Helena from the Galaxy
The past two weekends have presented opportunities to see and enjoy St Helena as a tourist which has been a real treat. The weather has been lovely most of the time with blue skies and white picture perfect clouds.
The first opportunity was to spend a day on the Galaxy which is one of the yachts moored in Jamestown bay. She is awaiting her crew to take her to her permanent home in the west of Scotland. Until that time she needs to go out on a sail every now and then just to keep all parts in working order. A picnic was packed and with the promise of some fishing to boot off we went.
As the air temperature here is a pretty constant 18C to 23C being out in the open on the water is no hardship. In fact the breeze and scenery make any outing memorable. Sun protection is a must as is plenty of water to drink.
We sailed (well motored under sail as we were heading into the wind) along the coast to the far eastern end of the island which took around 3 hours at a very leisurely pace. The island from a boat looks quite formidable as the brown volcanic cliffs are void of vegetation and life. It’s not until you look inland that the green abundant interior can be spotted. Sea birds come and go, some perching on the vessel. A pod of about 30 or so dolphins rushes past in pursuit of a school of fish I presume. I think the dolphins had more success than we did as our attempt at catching anything was scuppered by the speed of the boat which according to our skipper needs to be at least five knots before anything will bite. The most important fish in this area is tuna which is caught most of the year. Perhaps more success next time.
Getting ready for the great meal!
Last Sunday I was invited to a very special weekend event and one I had been looking forward to since my first visit here: A Saint Picnic! This is a very popular tradition, with the fabulous weather (when not raining) and countryside offering the perfect setting for dining outdoors. Now a Saint Picnic is not quite the same as our UK equivalent. This is because basically its Sunday lunch taken to a lovely location and then spread out (table cloth and all) and eaten outdoors.
Pam who is one of my main contacts on the island and her family took me to Sandy Bay on the south side where we unloaded, hot roast chicken, stuffing, curry, rice, veggies including roast potatoes, sweet potatoes and carrots, pasta and sausages. The table was set with cutlery and a cloth and looked just like it should have been in someone’s dining room. Two servings of curry and chicken and I was feeling pretty relaxed and also quite full. It was at this stage that the desserts were revealed! Out of a cool box came jelly with fruit, cakes and a lovely pecan pie. No wonder we all managed to eat these. Knowing Pam as I now do I wasn’t surprised to see her next offering out of one of the many bags and boxes: A choice of teas or coffee to follow the meal…brilliant!
The quality of life on St Helena is so rich with such a strong foundation on family values. There were four generations of Pam’s family at the picnic, and one tourist. It was a real privilege to be a part of their weekend and a memory I will cherish for a very long time.
Its not looking good!
Today is the day that many of the local businesses have been planning and anticipating for weeks. Menus have been planned, food has been stockpiled and cooked, events and trips have been organised with preparation starting for some on Friday evening. The Arcadia, one of P&O’s largest cruise liners is going divest herself of her 2000 or so passengers for all of four or five hours of sightseeing and we want to make it a show worth stopping here for!
Getting ready for work this morning I sense things are different today, I hear traffic on the road above me from around 6.00am…this is highly unusual to say the least. Peering down the valley I can see the sea from my patio but no sign of any ship. Once in my car heading for Jamestown I catch my first glimpse of Arcadia reflecting the early morning sunlight back up the valley where in fact it’s raining. Reaching town many of the locals are already up and about and there is a sense of urgency in the air. Our team at the tourist office are all in place wearing their “ready to help” tee shirts. Heading to the wharf I spy a long line of tour buses. Nearly every vehicle carrying more than 4 passengers on the island has been commandeered as a tour bus to take the 2000 or so cruisers around. St Helena having a population at the moment of around 3000 one can imagine the logistics involved in getting this show on the road.
At the wharf and landing area I see two men in white uniform and the orange tender from the Arcadia moored alongside. They have serious faces and are clicking and chatting on walkie talkies. It doesn’t take long to assess the situation. Although the sea is calm in St Helena terms, (MILK POND is how one local describes it to me) can 2000 people disembark the ship, do their tours and then embark five hours later? Much observing of the tender’s motion against the dock takes place and every time something resembling a wave occurs there is a great shaking of heads and more debate about what to do. The age of the passengers and the health and safety are significant factors in this analysis.
At 10.00am the sentence is passed. “No we will not be bringing our passengers to your island as the swell is too strong”. The disappointment can be sensed across town when I walk back up to the tourist office. One or two proprietors put on a brave face, Hazel at the Consulate hotel says it was a good dummy run for when the airport gets built. A very sporting thing to say considering she and her staff have been working all weekend to get her hotel ready with a local market set up in her ballroom and barbecue in the garden and cakes in the snack bar.
The slow procession of tour buses through the main street seem a sombre reminder to all on the island how hard it is to make a living here and what a difference the airport is going to make.
I wonder whether any of those 2000 passengers will ever return to St Helena.
Week one back on island has been terrific for so many reasons.
My welcoming committee on dry land made me feel like I was returning home which was truly humbling. The short walk from the wharf into town took more than 15 minutes owing to the number of people who came over to say hello and to ask how long I am staying! One of my welcoming committee could also go by the title of social secretary! Gay Marr had a list of the local events mapped out for me over the forthcoming month, one being a meal at Ann’s Place which is one of the local eateries.
Fish is obviously one of the most popular items on the menu and at this time of year there are two varieties of lobster (or crayfish as the Saints call them) in season. One is the stumpy which is a small rock lobster and the other one is more akin the UK lobster except it doesn’t have the massive pincers. On the menu at £12.00 for a whole one, which is enough for two they are a real bargain. The photo shows the half grilled lobster I had and as you can see it was falling off the plate. The sweet white tail meat must have weighed in at 300g and that was just half the beast, I’ll certainly be back for more.
Whilst on one of my food shopping sorties I spied Tesco long grain rice in 2Kg bags for 70p! Bargain I thought, must be the sell by date. When I got back to my apartment I discovered the reason for the good deal. The rice was full of Weevils, turning my white rice into a speckled moving mass! Now having lived in Dubai I am familiar with these little critters, the size of thunder bugs and loving anything starchy. I thought I could kill them off by putting the rice in the freezer which is what I did…the next morning there was still movement so back in the freezer went my rice. One of my colleagues at work when I told her gave me a far better remedy which I will certainly use next time……..weevils hate the light so spread the rice on a tray and the weevils will disappear! Wish I had received that information before as I now have dead weevils in my rice, I am hoping they float away when I boil it, if not I guess its extra protein and not as bad as the cockroach I found in rice on my previous visit here!
Good Friday on St Helena and in fact Sunday and Monday are some of the quietest days of the year in Jamestown. The locals head for the hills with their families and go camping for the weekend. Friday is the day everyone on island eats fish with most of the local men spending Thursday evening perched on a rock somewhere catching it. These traditions remind us of a way of life long gone in the UK where the bank holidays are some of the busiest in the year for the stores, whether in towns or online. I know which I prefer!
Work has taken off at full pelt with much to do and little time to do it in. Easter obviously has an impact on getting things done as will the arrival in a week or so of the biggest cruise ship of the year, the MS Arcadia 2400 people are potentially vising the island for one day, this is only 500 folk short of the whole population of the island so it will be an interesting day to observe how things develop.
Last week I actually made it to Longwood House, the last home of Napoleon Bonaparte. It has taken so long as the property isn’t always open so you have to pick your moment. The gardens, as you can see from my pictures are lovely. The interior contains many interesting artefacts from the time Napoleon was here and the ladies who were acting as guides had some great stories to tell.
I actually returned to Longwood on Wednesday evening when a cheese and wine party was held in support of the Save Longwood House campaign, the house needs much work done to it and has many keen devotees who raise funds not only on St Helena but in France and the UK.
The BIG news this week happened on Thursday when the Governor announced that the contract between Basil Read (airport contractors) and the UK Government has been signed and it is now all systems go for the airport to start being built. The finish date is some three years away however the influx of 300 or so contractors is going to have an effect on the economy way before then for sure! Its early days but wheels are already in motion and plans being made to entice investors to this tiny spot in the ocean. The main thrust is going to be tourism with a green label which is good news for sure. St Helena has had so many changes to its environment by humans and not all of them beneficial.
The rare St Helena Ebony
I should be sitting on the ship by now waving off the masses of friends and acquaintances I have made on this tiny island but no I’m sitting in the tourist office knocking out my final Blog for St Helena. The ship endured bad weather in Ascension and so has lost a day of its schedule and is now sailing a day later than expected. This may affect the arrival time in Cape Town but no one knows until we get going tomorrow. In some ways it’s a good thing as I have plenty of loose ends to tie up as I was working in a Chef’s Jacket until 5.00pm last night.
The St Helena’s second ever food festival was a success and will be remembered for the introduction of Tabbouleh, Foccaccia, Cornbread and Alsace Onion Tart to all who came. The other stalls involved included the local distillery, wine tastings, cheeses and pate tastings, cakes in all shapes and sizes and a variety of local specialties. I didn’t get to take any pictures as we were busy from the time it opened until around 4.00pm when all I wanted was a cup of tea! My thanks go to Joan Peters and Ivy Robinson who helped me over the two days of prep and serving the food. I also had two NVQ hospitality students working with me, Kimberley and Danielle who were also brilliant!
So its Farewell St Helena and thank you to everyone I have met who have made my visit so memorable and rewarding. I hope to return in 2012.