A Barbadian Take on Mediterranean Cuisine
Here’s something to know about Barbados: the roads are really narrow. Like, pretty scary on some turns, especially when there’s a big bus coming at you, narrow. Like, there goes your wheel, straight into a rain gutter, narrow. Like, white knuckled, you’ll need a stiff drink when you get to your destination, narrow.
— By Joanna Fox
On the plus side, you’ll get used to it. Another bonus is that if you rent a car while you’re there, chances are it will be a small one. In my case, a picante: a bright canary yellow Kia Picante to be exact.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved my peppy, petite rental car, but when I drove up to the smooth, sleek stone walls that led to the entrance of the über chic restaurant Cin Cin by the Sea in my bright yellow Kia, I felt a pang of self-consciousness. As I bashfully gave my car keys to their valet, he joked that my car was so bright, they wouldn’t have any trouble finding it for me when I left. That’s not the only reason they’ll be able to find it, I thought.
“Maybe when I leave we can upgrade?” I said hopefully. “I wouldn’t mind a bright yellow Ferrari”.
“No problem ma’am” he replied with a big grin.
Ah, but how first impressions can be deceiving! How little I knew, as I learned that evening, that Cin Cin is so far from being the kind of place where what car you drove would ever matter. But I digress. Let’s go back to the beginning.
As I walked into the restaurant, unsure of what to expect, I was immediately greeted by co-owner and executive chef Larry Rogers who, smiling and holding a glass of wine, swept me across the room and out onto the stunning terrace. In total awe of the view, I was truly speechless. “We wanted something different,” Rogers explained. “Rather than the neo-colonial style that everyone else has, we wanted something contemporary because that was the style of food I wanted to do.”
Contemporary, it certainly is, but Cin Cin is a lot more than that. For starters, it’s stunning: the restaurant is glass and wood and ocean and sky. It’s perfectly minimal with grays and whites and shades of blues; all natural hues, very tasteful and subdued. It feels like the organic extension of the setting: spacious and airy, fresh and clean.
This is the kind of place you could equally sip or splurge; have a modest meal or live large and really splash out. This duality is something really quite exceptional because in Barbados, places like this don’t really exist. Or at least, they didn’t until Cin Cin came on the scene and Rogers and his wife Michelle shook things up.
As Rogers and I sit at one of the twelve tables that are on the rail, directly overlooking the ocean and sip a glass of perfectly chilled rosé, I start to get the feeling that there’s something very special about Cin Cin.
“We want to be different. We’re trying to push the envelope”, exclaims Rogers enthusiastically. “It’s a small restaurant community and it doesn’t change too often. We’re probably the more innovative of all of them. We’ve set the bar for a lot of people. We like to be pushed and we’re always changing.”
While I sit back and try and take in the reality of this spectacular setting, the sun begins to slip away, piercing through the ocean’s dark horizon and leaving behind fleeting trails of pink, orange and red. Rogers discreetly gives one of his waiters a hand signal and two young men quickly disappear to the far end of the dining room. In very swift movements they begin to pull on leavers that slowly retract the roof over the terrace to reveal the night sky. The next thing I know, we are sitting in the open air, watching the moon come to life. It actually feels like we’re on the deck of a boat. The sound of the waves that lap the shore directly below our table mix in with the bustling din of the restaurant: Cin Cin’s soundtrack.
This setting, this restaurant, this style of food – it wasn’t something that just fell into Rogers’ lap. It was the culmination of a lot of hard work, perseverance and the drive to create something new.
Born in Barbados, Rogers grew up in New Zealand and began his culinary career in Auckland. In 1988, his sister lured him back to the island with the promise of a bustling tourist destination and plenty of work for a young chef. Rogers came with his then girlfriend Michelle, and she fell in love with the place. “I was like, well, let’s get married, and that was it”, recalls Rogers.
It was then that Rogers and his new wife entered the Barbadian restaurant scene. After many successful years operating a handful of well-loved restaurants on the island, Rogers got throat cancer in 2004. Unsure about his health or future, the couple decided to buy Pisces, a restaurant in a prime location on the lively St. Lawrence Gap.
“It’s the only restaurant we’ve ever bought and it was something that my wife could operate during my chemo, not knowing what was going to happen with me. She started that while I had my treatment in New York.”
Rogers got through the worst of the cancer and when he came back to Barbados the recession hit the island. Eight restaurants closed in one year: it was not a good time to be in hospitality. When a good friend of Rogers’ announced that he had to close his place as well (which happened to have a prime spot right on the coveted West Coast), Rogers saw an incredible opportunity.
Rogers immediately took over the lease and began work on Cin Cin. His Mediterranean vision began to take shape. Despite running out of money halfway through, Rogers got Cin Cin back on track, and persevered despite the obstacles. When Cin Cin finally opened its doors, it was an immediate success.
Today, Rogers has three restaurants under a parent company called Chaps: Cin Cin, Hugo’s and Pisces. Although they are all stunning locations, Cin Cin still stands out from the crowd. It not only looks quite different from most places on the island, but the food is adapted to Rogers’ own personal culinary style and preference.
“We describe ourselves as modern Mediterranean. Anything on the shores of the Mediterranean lend themselves to the ingredients we’re getting here so it’s relatively easy to make that fusion. A little Greek and Portuguese, French and Spanish, that type of thing. A lot of people find this style refreshing: it’s more like bistro food. I don’t cut little diamonds out of tomatoes and strategically place them on a plate, it’s a lot more provincial or honest. My style is taking the classics and breathing some fresh air into them. I don’t have anything on the menu I do not eat.”
Rogers is also very much in touch with all his clients when they come and dine. Between courses, he gets up from our table and walks around the terrace warmly greeting diners, talking about the menu this evening, a dish they must try or a Burgundy wine he loves. It’s all very genuine and it’s obvious he enjoys what he does immensely. Cin Cin is not just an extension of Roger’s personality, it’s also an extension of his home.
As my incredible meal experience at Cin Cin came to an end and I drove away in my (own) car, I realized that it wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. Even though this swish place looked like it could belong on South Beach or in Malibu, or even somewhere on the shores of the Mediterranean, it had a very Barbadian approach that was unmistakable. It’s wasn’t stuffy, or pretentious, and even though it looked very crisp and cool, it was incredibly relaxed and laid back. What Larry Rogers showed me was that it all comes down to attitude and enjoying the simple pleasures in life.
So cin cin to you, Mr. Rogers, to a job well done.