The Epicurean Birder Reveals: Five Places to Get Fat While Birding – a New Series for Culinary Review

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Not all birders are cut out for the fervor Steve Martin shows in the movie “The Big Year,” where crazed and competitive birdwatchers skip meals to add species to their life lists. In the spirit of an Epicurean, the world-traveling guides of the relaxed-pace company, Naturalist Journeys, rebel. As a sideline to their nature and birding tour business, Naturalist Journeys announces a new culinary endorsement series: “Five Places to Get Fat While Birding,” which touts the sensual celebration of food and dining as an integral part of a well-crafted adventure. Find their recommendations for getting fat in Jamaica in this month’s Epicurean Birder Blog.

Naturalist Journeys publishes the Epicurean Birder blog and their current feature is Jamaica. Why Jamaica? Of forty nature destinations offered in 2012, the company ranks Jamaica as its top-pick nature tour for Epicurean delights. Jamaican foods are as vibrant as the island’s cultures: Ackee, sweet potato, Scotch Bonnet peppers, lime, coconut, cassava, lobster, plantain, callaloo, curried shrimp, saltfish, rice and gungo peas, pimento, chayote, ginger, tamarind, soursop, passion fruit… In the cold of mid-winter just naming the flavor-packed ingredients of Jamaican cooking brings zesty inspiration.

Naturalist Journey’s Epicurean Birder suggests sampling the island’s quieter eastern side, best accessed from Kingston. There, on Jamaica’s University of Technology’s grounds, try the first of their "Five Place to Get Fat While Birding." Lillian’s Restaurant, adjacent to a sculpture park, hosts a wrap-around porch and a program to train students in hospitality. Award-winning Chef Karl Thomas features state-of-the-art contemporary Caribbean cuisine, urging students to excel in innovative culinary skills. There’s a viewing window inside to watch preparation. It’s a busy place to join locals enjoying the casual but elegant atmosphere; one suited to the National Historic Monument designation granted two years ago to the 1912 bungalow-style building that it’s housed in. Reservations recommended: 876.927.1615.

A Top Pick on their list, on the north coast, the Epicurean Birder endorses Hotel Mockingbird Hill’s Mille Fleurs. Birding Jamaica is a thrill, but field time can be exhausting and diners appreciate the return to this lovely oasis, with its lush gardens, inviting pool, and old-fashioned restaurant chalkboard on which Chefs describe the day’s specialties several hours ahead of the meal. The hotel staff observes clients as they struggle with selection and later savor the presentation. How to choose between Coconut and Garlic or Tomato and Sweet Potato soup; between Jerk-spiced Pimento-crusted Tofu, Aubergine in Red Stripe Beer Batter on Sweet Pea Puree, Callaloo and Feta Stuffed Chicken, or Coconut Fish Baked in Banana Leaves? A diner’s final choice is that of sumptuous desserts: Soursop Sorbet, Guava Crème Brulee, Pimento Coffee Custards or Otaheiti Apple Tarts this evening? Reservations recommended but not required: 876.993.7267.

Another Epicurean endorsement goes to a local Port Antonio restaurant threatened by a possible decision to widen the road to the west, linking this sleepy small city to fast-lane Jamaican life, which from Dickie’s Best Kept Secret seems far away. Birders like distractions while dining, especially if they are of the winged kind. Dickie’s three-story, hand-built Rastafarian-Victorian creation sits perched above the sea. Dinner is a five course affair in rooms with walls the colors of tropical birds; open windows bring in the sea breeze. One must call for reservations and then choose from local fish or lobster, a featured meat dish such as curried goat, or a vegetarian option ahead of time, for everything is caught, shopped for, or harvested that day. Alvin “Dickie” Butler trained in fine resorts, but he chose to return home, and to invite dignitaries, celebrities, and regular folks into his eclectic realm. Ask him about the meaning of the Best Kept Secret, a story of life's plenty and abundance. 876.809.6276.

A fourth endorsement is for restaurant that is not a restaurant at all. Miss Wissy’s is marked by only a few tables and chairs on a stony riverside beach. Officially known as Belinda's Riverside Canteen, family recipes for Jamaican Jerk Chicken have passed from mother (Betty) to daughter (Belinda, or "Wissy"), and rafters on the scenic Rio Grande River are in for a treat. Miss Wissy and a happy cluster of friends are ready to serve a cold Red Stripe beer, and to urge hungry customers to fill their bowls with hot Pepperpot soup. Both mother and daughter have walked the mile-long path from their hilltop home with greens from the garden, sweet potatoes, and perhaps fresh crayfish caught that day. Access the restaurant on 25-foot rafts that glide through an impressive gorge of tropical scenery. No reservations needed; river guides will know if she is there…

Fifth? The Epicurean birder returns to Mille Fleurs to tout their breakfasts alfresco with a view of the sea. It’s just so Jamaican…

For fourteen years, Naturalist Journeys has designed and conducted birding and nature travel adventures world-wide, with the finesse and skill of a master Chef. Their ingredients are simple, finely-blended and organic. Wherever possible, while in pursuit of Earth’s fine scenery and species, they select locally-owned inns with character and restaurants that feature fresh local foods. The Epicurean Birder and its new series featuring “Five Places to Get Fat While Birding” is a celebration of their craft.

For more information or a brochure on 2012 journeys, email them at info(at)naturalistjourneys(dot)com, phone Naturalist Journeys at 866.900.1146, or visit


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Peg Abbott

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