Riding the Wave: Cafe Luna’s Mark ‘Moo’ de Gruchy talks food, music, and where life takes you
“I love the lifestyle on Barbados, the surfing, and the slowed down spirit of happiness”, says the chef and co-owner of Cafe Luna, Mark (‘Moo’) de Gruchy. “And the cheap rum.”
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
— Cover: Mark ‘Moo’ de Gruchy, Executive Chef / Co-owner – Cafe Luna
More than 25 years after first visiting Barbados, Moo still loves the Caribbean island he now calls home. But while he might enjoy the theoretical peacefulness of owning a rooftop restaurant on a quiet strip of beach south of Oistins, he hasn’t escaped the spotlight. Instead, he’s known for both his pan-tropical fare with Mediterranean and Asian notes at Cafe Luna and for his reggae, country, blues, and rock band Mootown.
The story of Cafe Luna is one of serendipity. Moo first came to Barbados for a four-month vacation from Vancouver, Canada and met Mark Cothran. When Cothran opened Mexican restaurant Café Sol at the entrance to the St. Lawrence Gap, a few years later, Moo came back to the island as its chef. After a few years back in Vancouver (where he married his wife Sarah, whom he met in high school), he returned to Barbados to partner with Cothran and Cothran’s wife Jacinta, who owned the quaint Little Arches Boutique Hotel. In 2001, its third floor became Luna.
Now, in addition to a popular restaurant and a cool band, Moo has a son, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for surfing. But while sipping cucumber lemonade on the Cafe Luna patio, watching a sunset accompanied by palm trees wrapped with strings of white lights, Moo seems content – as though he had all the time in the world to answer my questions about belly pumpkin, black belly lamb, and why people call him “Moo”.
How did you get your nickname?
As a kid, I had a speech impediment. Years of speech therapy. Some words were difficult, milk being one of them. So I asked for “Moo”. There you have it!
What’s your best memory at Cafe Luna?
Hanging out with Robert Plant from Led Zeppelin when he came for dinner. He had stuffed chicken with breadfruit and ham.
Where does your band, Mootown, play?
We played at Mullins Beach Bar every week for five years, until it washed away in March 2018. We did something like 200 gigs. Now, the owners have reopened in the historic Carib Beach Bar on Sandy Beach, just past St. Lawrence Gap. Mootown is the house band on Sundays from 6 p.m.
In addition to your à la carte menu and summer barbecue menu, you have a three-course Back to Bajan menu. How did you come up with it?
About 10 years ago, when recession hit, we designed the menu to keep it local and inexpensive. We decided to stop selling imported things like Chilean sea bass, clams, mussels, scallops and salmon, and focus on local products.
You’re a member of Slow Food Barbados and ninety-five per cent of your menu is local now. What do you wish you could get locally but can’t?
Restaurant-grade beef. Barbados has great local pork, chicken, and seafood, but there’s no government rating on cows. They also tend to eat wild grasses, so there might not be enough grass or water for them. Consequently, local ground beef is fun, stew beef is great, but New York steak or beef tenderloin are hit and miss. It could be good, but when you have a customer in a restaurant, “it could be good” isn’t good enough.
How do you make your braised lamb stew?
We buy a 40-lb. lamb carcass at Cheapside Market, put a spice rub on the meat, and oven-braise it for four hours with local onions, carrots, parsley, a little rosemary, oregano, fresh tomatoes and chicken stock. We take the meat off, strain the liquid, and that’s the base for our demi-glace. To make the stew, we take a brunoise of pumpkin, carrots, onion, and spinach and sauté it in fresh garlic, parsley and white wine, then add the lamb meat, the lamb demi and sweet potato dumplings.
How does cooking local here differ from other places?
I guess the difference from North America or Europe is that almost everything’s available here locally year-round: beets, eggplants, tubers, finger squash, belly pumpkin. The fruits are seasonal, like soursop, passion fruit, mango, but papaya’s year-round. Watermelon too. There are no mushrooms, yellow or red peppers, or asparagus, but we have green peppers. The difference is that in North America or Europe the international transport system is huge. You can get asparagus in Barbados, but it comes from Peru. Peru to New York might only be seven days of shipping, but here why would you buy something that’s travelling farther than your guest?
Are all your flours gluten-free?
We use breadfruit flour, sweet potato flour or cassava flour for everything except bread, which we make with all-purpose flour. We use gluten-free flours like the breadfruit flour for our fried shrimp and eggplant dishes with mango-soy dipping sauce, and for our fish and shrimp crêpe with white wine-Parmesan cream and tomato-basil sauce. This is both about gluten-free and localism. The downside of it is that it’s expensive, even though it’s local.
How do you make the pumpkin buttermilk pancakes and banana bread on the breakfast menu?
With local buttermilk and local belly pumpkin. It’s a traditional pumpkin except it’s white and green. The banana cream is local bananas sautéed in Barbadian sugar and hit with triple sec and local cream. The banana bread is a family recipe from the hotel’s general manager, Sandra Edwards.
What’s your favourite Bajan dish?
I love a proper ham cutter.
Little Arches Hotel
Enterprise Beach Rd.