da Conch Shack Executive Chef Mark Clayton took the first step on the road to his career in cuisine when he was just nine years old. His very busy mom, whom he described as a multi-tasker with three children and a full time job, burned dinner one night. Young Mark asked what he could do to help and she began to show him around the kitchen. It was the beginning of a lifelong love affair. It’s delightfully obvious that Mark took to food, and with a passion. Guests at da Conch Shack, both visitors and residents, have been overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the beachfront restaurant’s fare. Mark artfully prepares local Turks and Caicos dishes and merges Japanese, Chinese, Indian and even Russian influences with fresh island ingredients and flavours. His signature dishes include Lobster Curry and Jerked Chicken. Mark’s interest in food and preparing dishes that make people smile has never flagged. He attended the Saunders Catering School of Home Economics in Kingston and worked in local restaurants until Sandals hired him. Recognising his passion and gift, Mark was promoted from line cook to supervisor to sous chef. He travelled to other Sandals Resorts in Jamaica and then they ‘sent him to school.’ Actually, they brought in professors from Johnson & Wales University’s Culinary Arts program to teach a group of students from selected hotels. Mark stayed with the Sandals operation until he travelled to the Turks and Caicos. Initially he came to Providenciales to visit a friend. Mark fell in love with the Turks and Caicos and the opportunities it presented for his cooking. He found his dream job, creating great food with fresh ingredients in a beautiful setting on the beach, at da Conch Shack in Blue Hills. The now famous restaurant may well serve the freshest conch on the island, as well as Chef Mark’s many other creations. You can watch as your lunch is taken from the ocean, knocked (removing the conch from the shell) and cleaned, before being delivered to the kitchen for Chef Mark’s magic touch. The firm white meat’s texture is perfect for creating seafood dishes ranging from raw salads, chowders and stir-fries to fritters, curries and creole stew. Cracked conch is probably the best known method of serving conch and Mark’s version is fabulous, with a crispy light batter encasing tender seasoned conch. Mark’s menu also offers fresh local pot snappers and deep sea fish, lobster in season, jerked chicken and ribs, as well as novel creations such as his fish tacos with black bean pepper sauce, PeppaJoy chicken (utilizing the local Turks and Caicos pepper sauce) and amazing slow cooked pulled pork. There are kid friendly foods and traditional side dishes. The house made desserts are worth a visit by themselves. But da Conch Shack is not just about great food, there is RumBar. Named by CNN as one of the world’s best beach bars, it is the party side of da Conch Shack. On Wednesday nights the island dances on the beach to live local music (Hump & Bump Night at da Conch Shack). Mark feeds the party usually serving over 200 dinners. Chef Mark enjoys the laid back atmosphere of the Blue Hills restaurant. He said it’s more relaxed than the Grace Bay venues and the food is fun. Mark added, “Food is life. It’s serious business but also has joy in it. Making you happy makes me happy.” The youthful looking chef at da Conch Shack enjoys going to the movies and playing with his four year old daughter when he’s not creating magic in the kitchen. Da Conch Shack’s general manager Karel Rodney, also from Jamaica, has ‘got Mark’s back.’ Karel’s job is to ensure that Chef Mark’s creations are presented with prompt service in a friendly island atmosphere. Karel is an expert in great service and atmosphere, he has been providing it on Providenciales for 16 years. Visitors to the Turks and Caicos usually hear that da Conch Shack is a ‘must visit’ destination. Come by and say hello to Chef Mark and Karel and see why. DA CONCH SHACK MENU AT RIGHT
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