Where When How — March/April 2017
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Crackpot Kitchen
Mandy Rostance-Wolf


Tradition... with a Twist

HE’S KNOWN SIMPLY AS CHEF NIK. A larger than life persona with a profound passion for our local cuisine that has made him a celebrity of the culinary kind here in the Turks and Caicos Islands – and abroad. At six foot four inches, he certainly makes an entrance. The son of Aulden “Smokey” Smith of Smokey’s on Da Beach fame, you could say that cooking is in his DNA.

He has already amassed quite an impressive culinary CV, yet it sounded to us like he’s just getting started. He is the talented and innovative Executive Chef of Crackpot Kitchen and Crackpot Catering. He holds the esteemed title as the Turks and Caicos Culinary Ambassador; and he’s a Celebrity Chef, with his own television cooking show called – you guessed it – Crackpot Kitchen. At the time of our review, he was planning the popular show’s third season and making final preparations to launch more gourmet food products online for sale here and in the USA.

We visited Chef Nik at Crackpot Kitchen Restaurant, located upstairs in the Ports of Call shopping village in Grace Bay. He is an instantly affable and entertaining character, but an equally serious Chef. It quickly became obvious that his outgoing personality and tenacious work ethic was contagious, and has rubbed off on his entire restaurant team.

Bartenders Jacques and Carl shook up tonight’s drink special for me. Clearly enjoying the chance to perform their mixology skills, I watched as they created Dragon Fire, made from muddled jalapeño, tequila, triple sec, grapefruit and lime juice. It was fabulous.

This night, we were treated to the best seats in the house, the exhibition kitchen’s Chef’s Table. It’s a ringside, unobstructed view to the heat, action, camaraderie, and at times, craziness of the kitchen. Here, up to eight people can enjoy watching Chef Nik prepare a four to eight course dinner.

Chef Nik is all about tradition with a twist, and insists, “I respect tradition, but I believe in recreating tradition, putting a special touch to it.” Like his Tropical Conch Salad. A native dish and a bastion of our cuisine, Nik’s untraditional slant adds cantaloupe, mango, pineapple and fresh orange and mango juices. “So you get an array of flavours…you’ll get the sweet, the spicy, the conch – everything sweet and nice,” he said. Perfect heat and great acidity prompted my fellow diner to say, “My taste buds are tingling.” Crank up the heat if you dare by dipping a slice of scotch bonnet pepper into the conch salad juice.

Next, he offered up a round of Chunky Conchy Chowder Shooters. “Something to warm you up and get you started,” he smiled. Very savoury with a hint of sweetness, thick and creamy with tons of flavour. Rolls are house-made, savoury and satisfyingly warm.

Cracky Conch Fritters come on a stick with a side of Flamingo Sauce, so-called for its pink, vibrant colour. These sausageshaped treats of spiced, minced conch and veggies were scrumptious and the sauce was an undisputed hit. “Get me a spoon!” I ranted. Chef Nik smiled and said with a grin, “The sauce complements anything, trust me.”

The popular East Caicos Lemon Shark Spring Rolls are crispy and addictive delights stuffed with melt-in-your-mouth ‘hash shark.’ He explained the slow cooking process indicative of preparation methods dating back long before his time, when hash shark was a Saturday morning staple. “I just took the dish and did something creative with it,” Chef confessed. Cue the Flamingo Sauce. More Starters include Cracky Conch, Curry Beef Spring Roll, Fire Engine Arancini made with hash corned beef, and salads-a-plenty with Garden, Mozza Tomato, Lobster and Caesar.

Chef Nik admits he likes to give people what he likes. “If you look on the menu, you’ll see ‘signature’ on the side of some things, that’s what I eat, that’s what I love to eat.” So when it was time to choose main courses, he encouraged us to experience some local delights done his way.

The Drunken Bird is Chef Nik’s personal favourite. It’s a whole Cornish hen marinated in his outrageously tasty and intoxicatingly tangy Signature Jerk Sauce. My husband was instantly smitten with this dish and loved the complementary sweet potato smash.

My favourite dining companion had only one word to describe the Crusty Grouper, “divine.” Fillets of moist, lean, succulent grouper were coated in a marvellous almond herb crust and drizzled with an arugula pesto and served on a bed of sensational roast Caicos pumpkin risotto. My customary tasting portion left me hankering for another bite, and another.

The Tamarind BBQ Baby Backs went to our biggest rib aficionado. Smothered with Chef Nik’s Tropical Tamarind Gourmet BBQ Sauce, this foot-long rack of baby backs was sweet, sticky and satisfyingly smoky. What’s his secret? “I do something special with them – I can’t tell you much. But I do something very special with them ahead of time,” he grinned.

My Guinness Oxtail Stew was fabulously spiced and fall-off-the-bone tender. What a surprise to find butter beans bathing in the aromatic sauce, soaking up all the flavour. Nik suggested adding a little jerk sauce. That hit it out of the ballpark. The Old Field Curry Goat was just as savoury. Marinating and slow cooking rendered the meat completely tender and full of concentrated curry flavour. My sides of North Caicos roast corn, a cool, crunchy coleslaw and mixed Caicos beans & rice made this indigenous feast down-home delicious.

And there’s more – Jerk Lamb Rack, Jerk Rubbed Chops, Peeping Mahi, Cracky Reef Tacos, Caicos Reef Curry, Harbour Risotto, and several lobster dishes including his incredibly popular, whole Lobster Thermidor.

Desserts also come with a twist and Chef Nik enlists restaurant manager Florian’s cake and pastry skills and explains, “We wanted to keep it traditionally local, but we wanted to put an international twist to it. We come in the kitchen twice a week and we put together these desserts.”

The Haitian Mango Crème Brulee was exquisite. Haitian mangoes make all the difference, they are super sweet and unbelievably juicy. I once read that the best place to truly enjoy a mango is in the sea.

We discovered we were tonight’s test group for the new Black Forest Cake, a double-decker delight with two layers of rich, chocolatey cake and a fluffy cream centre laced with Kirsch-soaked cherries. My husband grew up eating the real deal, and declared this adaptation a winner. The Blueberry Duff Cheesecake was light and heavenly, with its berry compote base, white chocolate mousse and almond biscuit topping. Next, a lovely Strawberry Compote with silky Madagascar Vanilla Custard, topped with a wafer thin chocolate and pistachio tuile.

Chef Nik recognises and celebrates the talents of his entire team and was eager to introduce his sous chef, Esdras. With so much on Nik’s plate now, and his many ambitious future projects, Esdras has become his proverbial right hand man.

So what else does Chef Nik have up his sleeve? After lobster season, Chef Nik plans to appease your palate with octopus. “I want to have seafood…I want to have more and more of that. You’ll find Chef Nik and his team every Thursday evening at the Fish Fry, the island’s hugely popular cultural event, preparing local favourites on his newly fashioned twelvefoot grill.

He fondly remembers his dad’s popular Saturday Brunch and has plans to “take it down home” and bring the local breakfast scene to Grace Bay.

And those sauces and condiments? Perpetuate your Crackpot Kitchen food fantasies back home at your own backyard RESTAURANT REVIEW HALF MOON BLUEBERRY CHEESECAKE BBQ with Tropical Tamarind Gourmet BBQ Sauce, Tropical Heat Gourmet BBQ Sauce, and his Tropical Seasoning and Rub. Coming soon, that unforgettable Tropical Flamingo Cocktail Sauce and Cactus Jerk Sauce. ??

Read Chef Nik’s full story on page 136 of the 2017 Providenciales Dining Guide.