The Art of the Table: Head Chef Javon Cummins of the New Tapestry Restaurant
The newly renovated Treasure Beach by Elegant Hotels and its modern dining restaurant Tapestry feels like a high-end art gallery where art doesn’t stop at the walls.
— By Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
It’s hard to pass the hotel reception without admiring a painting or photograph. Each piece on the hotel and restaurant’s walls is by a local artist. (The hotel even commissioned the turndown cards for its 35 suites from 14 Bajan artists.) But at Tapestry, you’ll find award-winning Head Chef Javon Cummins’ plates are just as artistic.
Tapestry opened in December 2017, and its menu reflects the chef’s masterful creativity. Like a painter, he starts with sketches, then combines flavours to make a dish that’s as beautiful as it is delicious. “People eat with their eyes”, says the award-winning young chef. “If a plate doesn’t look good, it’s not appetising.”
When Elegant Hotels bought Treasure Beach in May 2017 and contacted Cummins to helm its restaurant, they told him they were rebranding with an epicurean bent. “A foodie hotel, very modern mixed with classic, and that’s me”, he says.
For example, on his Tuesday evening Chef’s Palette menu, he deconstructs classic Bajan pudding and souse as crisp-skinned pork belly atop a cucumber pickle gel, with beetroot-dyed sweet potato pudding and Scotch bonnet-mango gel – all garnished with nasturtiums and other edible flowers. His other favourite – smoked duck with corn purée, wilted greens, and sorrel-Merlot reduction – comes to the table covered in a glass dome. “You lift it off and the smoke escapes”, he says. “We like to incorporate an artistic and dramatic side.”
That aromatic duck pairs perfectly with a cinnamon-smoked negroni or a bottle of Mommessin Fleurie 2011 – a Beaujolais on display in the windows of the wine cellar, which doubles as a private dining room. The cellar is seen both from the hotel’s reception area and the restaurant. A chandelier hangs above a locally made, bespoke wooden table. Floor-to-ceiling windows enclose wine bottles attached to wooden poles, like horizontal branches on trees. “There are a few wine cellars in Barbados, but none that you can actually dine in”, says Cummins. “You’re surrounded by wines and you have a sommelier or dedicated waiter. It’s the same Tapestry service and cuisine, but in an exclusive setting.”
The young chef is a four-time member of the Barbados Culinary Team and won Gold Pastry Chef of the Year at Taste of the Caribbean a few years ago. His biggest compliment is from longtime hotel guests who rarely ate in the hotel previously. “But when they came and saw the new restaurant and had dinner, they said that next time they wouldn’t make reservations anywhere else”, he says.
Locals have also adopted the restaurant. As one of few hotels with both à la carte and buffet options for breakfast and Sunday lunch, they often come for the Paynes Bay Breakfast: Creole flying fish with cherry tomatoes, fried plantains, spiced fingerling potatoes, and Bajan bakes (sweet pieces of cinnamon-spiced dough shallow-fried like little pancakes). The name is an homage to the restaurant’s beachfront location and the nearby Paynes Bay Fish Market. “When locals visit, I tell my team we’re going to get orders for the Paynes Bay, and they always tell me, ‘Chef, you don’t know what the guests are going to have.’ A few minutes later, they come into the kitchen saying ‘Chef… Three Paynes Bays.’”
As for Sunday lunch, guests start with the buffet of appetisers – sushi, quiche, a Caesar salad station, vodka gazpacho – then order a main, like red curry shrimp, steak, or salmon. “The kicker is our signature Sunday lunch shared dessert: ice cream with a cinnamon swirl, banana fried spring roll, rum-raisin cheesecake, tiramisu, and fruit that comes on a bowl of ice.”
To cater to his now many returning guests, Cummins is constantly developing new dishes. In addition to the Tuesday night Chef’s Palette menu, there’s an Around the World Tapas night on Thursdays, alfresco barbecue buffet on Wednesdays, and a daily à la carte lunch. Friday through Monday, dinner is à la carte.
Cummins also creates custom menus, like when he was the private chef for actress Gabourey Sidibe (Precious and Empire). “She didn’t want to feel like she was back home eating pasta”, he says, so he created an upscale version of roast breadfruit. The traditional way of cooking the Bajan dish involves a fire pit on the beach, but to get the charcoal-blackened bottom, the chef grilled it then finished it in the oven. “Then I cut it into wedges, braised it in garlic butter, and plated it with grilled flying fish wrapped around grilled plantains and avocado cream, with a salad of mango and a citrus-strawberry dressing.”
The biggest challenge of creating edible art, says Cummins, is time. It’s an exhausting and exhilarating schedule, but he’s living his dream. “It’s fun because we have a young team that’s always willing to try something new”, he said. “Whatever I do, it has to be perfect or as close to perfect as possible. My mind is like a wheel – it never stops. I called my sous-chef yesterday and said, ‘You know, I didn’t sleep. I was thinking about new dishes’. And she was like, ‘Me too!’. We both just laughed. Passion is what really drives me and I’m glad I have a team at Tapestry that’s passionate too.”