Flying Fish Bahamas
January 27, 2015
Chef Tim Tibbitts is the shining new North Star for culinary travelers looking for an astonishing dining option in the Bahamas. The award-winning chef/owner of Flying Fish Bahamas (aka Flying Fish Modern Seafood), is luring discriminating diners to his waterfront restaurant in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island, Bahamas with indoor and terrace dining options. It’s a short flight (thank you Delta) from Florida and other points along the East Coast of the United States. And, it’s worth the trip from anywhere else.
Bahamian by birth, Tibbitts spent time in Canada and then moved to Freeport several years ago. He’s presenting extraordinary cuisine to this tropical island. Standing beside him is his wife, Rebecca Tibbitts, the restaurant’s sommelier. She’s the only female sommelier in the Bahamas. I was part of a small group of writers invited to Chef Tim’s “Top Chefs of the Bahamas” dinner in November, 2014, featuring Tim and Rebecca and three Nassau chefs, Simeon Hall (Simeon Hall Jr. Restaurant Management Ltd), Erika Davis (Graycliff Chocolatier), and Angel Betancourt (One & Only Ocean Club). You may recognize Chef Erika from her participation on the TV show, “Top Chefs: Just Desserts.” She’s deservedly well-known for her chocolate masterpieces.
The thirteen-course tasting dinner, which lasted five hours, started with an amuse-bouche of crunchy lobster salad and went on to include bite-size servings of wahoo, edible sand, seaweed gel, conch sausage, black-eyed peas cassoulet, and salted pork belly. Desserts featured an island version of Da Egg, blackened éclair, southern banana pudding ice cream, pineapple fly, and finished with Chef Erika’s petit fours (taken back to my hotel room for later).
Rebecca paired wines from France, New Zealand, Monterey (California), Oregon, and South Africa. Finding chefs in the Bahamas who can create this feast is beyond miraculous as almost nothing grows on the island. Just about everything—except the local seafood and shellfish—has to be imported. “Shipping and duty,” says Chef Tim, “is 220% higher than the states.”
Flying Fish Kitchen Gear
Claiming that his list of kitchen gear (or “toys”) “is not very long or fancy,” he says, “I do have a few small things including an anti-griddle, a Paco-Jet, an army of immersion circulator, dehydrators, and Chamber vacuum sealer, but that’s really it. There is a long list of things I want. It’s expensive to do modern food! Still to come are the roto-vap, centrifuge, combi-therm, and static homogenizer.”
He says he doesn’t try to be too avant garde. “We are in a delicate place where the balance between old and new is a tricky business.” The point is not to ask how he does something, but why. Then, as you take a delicate taste, don’t worry about how or why; just enjoy and marvel at what he’s done to your food. Chef Tim loves a tasting menu, although it’s not offered on a regular basis. “I think they’re becoming more popular because people go out to a nice place, they want to get the most out of the experience. Having many courses of different flavours and textures is so much more interesting than just eating to be full. I like the experience of eating.” He offers special holiday and event meals and an educational series that might feature Winter Perigord and White Alba truffles or a cheese night.
Flying Fish Top Chefs of the Bahamas Picking a favorite local fish, he says, is like choosing a favorite child. He loves working with “mahi mahi because it’s full of flavor with great texture. Wahoo is amazing to work with and is a rare treat to most guests. I love a good crispy skin snapper dish. Snapper skin is delicious. And it’s hard to beat fresh caught tuna served raw or as rare as possible. We are so fortunate to have such an abundance of choice here.” I can attest to how amazing the wahoo is. Not that I could replicate what he did. I tried to buy some from my local (Maryland) fishmonger and he says he’s never carried it and never had anyone ask for it. After spiny lobster and stone crab as other local favorite proteins, his current favorite is rabbit. “It shows great skill when it’s done right and light and delicious,” he says. “I love a lot of game meats. And birds of all kinds as well.”
The restaurant also has a cigar bar that features local cigars. “The amazing Graycliff cigar line tops our list with many different cigars produced here in the Bahamas,” says Tibbitts. “After that, it became more about quality and value. We looked for good quality cigars at an affordable price point. We always try to give people high value for dollar in every aspect of the restaurant experience.” Yes, he has a Partagas Cigarillo mini (Cuban) in the selection. He says the number of guests who enjoy a cigar after dinner is growing, with more in the winter than the summer. “I think it’s quite commonplace here in the Caribbean to enjoy a cigar and a cocktail,” he says. “It was much more difficult in Canada where we were before because of the anti-smoking laws they have there. I like the cigar culture of the Caribbean. It seems very civilized to me.” For those who favor a Scotch Whiskey with a cigar, the Flying Fish has a Glenrothes Select Reserve, Johnnie Walker Black, and three 12-year-old choices of Chivas Regal, Glenfiddich, and Glenlivet.
Rebecca the Sommelier
Rebecca took courses through the International Sommelier Guild in Toronto. She keeps up with trends and she’s always tasting wines. She tries to add a new wine to her list every week or two. “Living on an island where the wine culture is very new,” she says, “sourcing wines locally is not easy, so I need to make a conscious effort to bring in different wines to try and offer.” She likes to chose wines that are a “little off the beaten path, especially for wine pairings for guest’s meals. For the list as a whole, I try to keep wines in a style that are friendly for our style of food and climate. We sell more red wine in the winter and more whites in the summer, so I try to keep the list fluid and akin to the seasons.” Her favorite winery thus far is Tawse Winery in Niagara, Canada. “The wines from there are biodynamic and gravity fed so you taste the fruit and not necessarily the ‘process.’ The Cabernet Franc is amazing! But so are their Pinot Noirs and Riesling.”
Chef Tim has several passions. Perhaps most noteworthy to environmentalists is his involvement in controlling the lionfish population. It’s an invasive species that has no natural predators and is destroying local fish and the coral reefs that support the fish. It’s occasionally on his menu. As it’s a fairly small fish and many are caught with a spear gun, serving a whole filet—with a hole in it—can be difficult. Therefore, he serves lionfish cakes with orange hollandaise or as a ceviche. He’ll often fry the venomous quills as a decorative touch.
Pelican Bay Hotel
The Flying Fish is adjacent to the Pelican Bay Hotel a fairly small and laid-back bay-side property with awesome guestroom balcony views and a daily buffet breakfast. General Manager Magnus Alnebeck keeps an attentive eye on his friendly and competent staff. Guests can enjoy the pool, restaurants, bars, and an hourly ferry boat that goes to Taino Beach.
Within walking distance of the hotel is UNEXSO (Underwater Explorer’s Society) which also works with the control of lionfish by offering spear-diving sessions. It also happens to be the place where I took my first dive, September 23, 1989. The Bahamas National Trust teaches classes on how to clean the lionfish (as mentioned above, the spines are venomous – not lethal, but nasty). There’s also a Lucayan Marketplace for those who must search for the perfect souvenir.
Across the way is the new (February 1, 2014) all-inclusive Memories Grand Bahama Beach and Casino Resort with a daily selection of family and age-appropriate activities (designed for children 4-12 and 13-17). The island offers pristine beaches (particularly Gold Rock at Lucayan National Park), caves, golf, tennis, dolphin swims, dives, shopping, an archeological site, nature tours, a 12-acre garden of local flora and migratory birds and butterflies, and even a chance to prepare your own conch chowder at Junkanoo Beach Club. Once you’ve realize you must return home and you’ve resolved to return to Flying Fish and Freeport as soon as possible, you’ll love the fact that you clear U.S. customs and immigration on the island so you don’t have to deal with lines and crowds at the international airport on home soil.
For more information:
The Flying Fish www.FlyingFishBahamas.com)
Pelican Bay Hotel (www.PelicanBayHotel.com)
Freeport, Grand Bahama (www.Bahamas.com)
Memories Resort (http://memoriesresorts.com/en/resort/grand-bahama.aspx)