Imagine a spicy Anegada conch ceviche paired with roasted butternut squash puree and citrus avocado puree, and drizzled with a lemongrass infused oil. Now pair it with spiced passionfruit juice spiked with Callwood Rum.
That’s the meal Chef Ariq Flax-Clarke prepared in New York on June 5.
Mr. Flax-Clarke was sponsored by the BVI Tourist Board to participate as a guest chef at the James Beard Foundation after taking home a top honour from the Taste of the Caribbean competition in Miami.
When he first began cooking around the age of 6, he recalled, his mother talked to him about the James Beard Foundation.
“At the time I thought there is no way I’d make it towards that,” he said.
When he received a call from the board asking if he’d like to prepare a dish at the foundation, he wasn’t prepared to give them an answer straightaway.
“I was just surprised that out of all people they chose me to do such an event,” Mr. Flax-Clarke said.
He came up with the original recipe of spicy Anegada conch (imported straight from the island) paired with two different kinds of purees and drizzled with oil.
He also brought two varieties of rum from the Callwood Distillery in Cane Garden Bay.
How did he come up with his recipe?
Mr. Flax-Clarke said that being a chef is all about expanding his palate so that he knows what flavours go well together. That’s how he’s able to take risks and develop dishes like the conch, which he hopes to advertise one day.
The 21-year-old said that by 25, he hopes to open his own restaurant in his native Virgin Gorda. Until then, he knows he has a lot more to learn.
“I’ll most likely be going abroad. Once I go over there, I won’t have enough time to go home just as yet because I want to gain as much experience as possible,” he explained. “I’m one of those chefs where I don’t like to stay stagnant. I would like to move around and source different places and get different experiences.”
Mr. Flax-Clarke is approaching his final year of school at Johnson and Wales University, where he’s studying culinary arts.
Over the summer, as he’s done for many summers, he’s taken up a job. This year, he’s in St. Croix working alongsideChef Digby Stridiron, the owner of Braata, which opened in October.
Throughout his life, he’s had multiple mentors. But he remembers his first inspirations distinctly: his grandmothers Norma Flax and Mona Kelly.
Ms. Flax frequently made bread pudding, and his other grandmother, from St. Kitts, cooked most Sundays.
“Just the taste of food was always good for me,” he said. “That’s where my passion came from.”
Mr. Flax-Clarke’s mother started to push him as he grew older, encouraging him to take jobs and gain experience while opening his eyes to possibilities like cooking at the James Beard Foundation.
“My first job was in Little Dix Bay in Virgin Gorda,” he recalled. “I started working there since I was about 11 or 12 in the bake shop.”
He’s kept at it since then, and now he looks around the Caribbean to see which chefs are prospering. In addition to Mr. Stridiron, there are two other teachers who have shaped his experience.
“I’ve worked with Neil Cline, who also inspired me. He was once my instructor at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College. Me and him have done a couple of events together,” he said.
Kenneth Molyneaux of Tropical Fusion has also mentored Mr. Flax-Clarke, and the duo are heading to Miami soon to participate in a culinary competition.