Food is a great unifying force in the world. People from entirely different corners of the globe can connect over the similarities and differences that make their cuisine unique. Chef Craig Jones might not be your typical French Indian chef, but this Welshman is perfectly at home cooking the cuisine of the island of St. Lucia.
Across international boundaries and cultural barriers, food has the power to inspire and unite people of different backgrounds in a common love. People from cultures all over the world express their passion and creativity through food. We experience the cultures of other nations through food, and in return share our culture with others through cuisine. The unifying power of food can result, at times, in odd combinations.
Such is the tale of Craig Jones, the executive chef of Cliff at Cap in Cap Maison, St. Lucia. Jones was born in the sleepy seaside town of Colywn Bay, North Wales in the United Kingdom. From the cliffs of Colywn Bay, Jones has travelled the world as a chef and now resides in St. Lucia with his wife and daughters. Known affectionately as the Dreadlocked Welshman, he has been recognised in publications around the world for his fresh cuisine and focus on locally grown produce.
An Early Fascination with Cuisine
As a young child, Jones’ fascination with all things food began with his work as a barrow boy in Manchester, England. At the age of 13 he would wake up early and hit the vegetable markets of Manchester, finding joy in the selection of the best fruits and vegetables and working tirelessly to create new displays for the market stall.
In his first restaurant job, at a small luxury hotel in Cheshire, he was tasked with polishing the copper pots and pans. When he wasn’t polishing cookware, he was marvelling at the skill and creativity of the chefs. Though he considered himself a great waiter, he knew he could be an even better chef. He relentlessly pressed the chef at the Cheshire to allow him to follow as his apprentice.
With time, the chef agreed and took on Jones as a Chef Apprentice. At this point Jones admits he finally felt true freedom and total focus. He fearlessly worked the entire kitchen, learning everything he could about every tool, technique, and piece of equipment around him. Jones worked every role he could in the kitchen, stepping into the vegetable section, working as the larder, using cold starters, serving as fish cook, meat cook, and even pastry chef.
From the Irish Sea to the Caribbean
Over the course of his early career, Chef Jones would go on to work in a number of highly-regarded restaurants in the UK. His time as a chef in his homeland would culminate working under the legendary Chef Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons. Despite his rapid rise and success in the UK, Jones possessed an endless bounty of energy that eventually brought him to the Caribbean.
When he first arrived in the Caribbean, Jones worked at Cobbler’s Cove on Barbados, before moving on to Point Grace on Turks & Caicos and Royal R ex Hotel on St. Lucia. It was on St. Lucia, the motherland of his wife Kissey, where Jones finally felt at home. Not only did Jones f eel at home in St. Lucia, but the island par adise also holds some of
his fondest life memories.
Jones unabashedly states that his favourite place in the world is Smuggler’s Cove Beach. It was here that he w ent on a first date with Kissey; and it would be this same beach where he later built sand castles with his daughters and taught them to swim. Of his wife, Jones doesn’t mix words in pointing to her as his greatest supporter. In his own words, “Kissey is always in my corner telling me how it is”.
Cliff at Cap
In 2008, just two years removed from being named St. Lucian Chef of the Year at the Royal Rex Hotel, Jones opened Cliff at Cap at Cap Maison. Set on a bluff overlooking the crashing waters of the Caribbean Sea, with Martinique in the distance northward, Jones prepares the freshest French West Indian cuisine in a white tablecloth setting.
Before sourcing food from local producers was popular, Jones was turning to the local populace on St. Lucia and the bounty of its waters for inspiration and quality. All of the foods featured on his menu at Cliff at Cap are sourced from local fisherman, farmers, and markets on St. Lucia. Among his signature dishes at the restaurant, guests can enjoy butter poached Caribbean lobster with mascarpone-enriched gnocchi parmesan tuile, as well as a “jerked” chicken breast with caramelised plantains and creamed sweet corn.
One thing guests will not find on the menu at Cliff at Cap is the typical chicken fingers and fries for kids. Jones prides himself on an organic kid’s menu that is focused on organic, fresh ingredients. Of course, as a chef on St. Lucia Jones would be remiss to skip Creole cuisine as well. One of his personal favourites is a fish “one pot” that his wife cooks. The dish includes a fish head, dasheen, okras, coconut milk, ginger, local peppers, spring onions, and a healthy dose of fresh herbs.
Although he has achieved much in his lifetime, Chef Jones still wears a blue apprentice apron when he is in the kitchen. He credits his creativity over the years for his staying power, and even points to creativity as the driving force behind his ever-evolving menu at Cliff at Cap. Jones can even describe his cooking style in three simple words: passion, pleasure, and perfection.
For this chef, the day is never over in the kitchen at Cliff at Cap. He brings that passion and pleasure home with him. Rather than take time off from his job to relax, he enjoys running the kitchen at home too. He strongly believes that his daughters need to know how to cook and respect food, because of its importance to life and the well-being of his children.
When he has a day off, he gathers in the kitchen with his daughters for breakfast. Challenging them to make breakfast, the chef inside him takes over as he plans out the meals for the day with his daughters. Once done, they develop a list of ingredients and hit the market for their needs.
Whether Jones is in the kitchen at work or hitting the market with his daughters, he draws his inspiration from St. Lucia itself. The natural textures and colours of the surrounding environment, along with the Creole culture of St. Lucians, all provide him with a rich source of inspiration.