Baha Mar, the 1,000-acre resort outside the Bahamian capital, has made a big investment in food since it opened in 2015. Big names on the roster include master sushi chef Katsuya Uechi; Chef’s Table star butcher Dario Cecchini; and Marcus Samuelsson, whose beach food truck will be joined by a seaside restaurant later this year. And now, another food-world celebrity arrives in Nassau with the much-anticipated opening of Café Boulud The Bahamas, a sumptuous new restaurant from chef Daniel Boulud.
Boulud, known for a restaurant empire anchored by the two-Michelin-starred Daniel, in Manhattan, had spent some time in the Caribbean — “I’ve probably visited more than half of the islands,” he tells T+L — and was particularly drawn to the Bahamas for its diversity and proximity to his home base. “I appreciate the international clientele at Baha Mar,” which includes not only locals, who have access to all of the dining venues on property, but “people from the U.S., Europe, South America.” His new restaurant at Rosewood Baha Mar, the most luxurious of the resort’s three hotels, marks the first time he has brought his signature French style to the Caribbean.
Opening a restaurant is always a challenge, let alone during a pandemic. “It’s been a terrible curse for industry, and especially for small businesses,” says Boulud. “Even for me, only 35 or 40 percent of our group has reopened. But I think they have taken the best measures possible to reopen here.” Café Boulud debuted on March 4, the same day the Rosewood began welcoming guests after a months-long closure with safety protocols in place: masks are mandatory everywhere and travelers — who must have a health visa to enter the Bahamas — are given a rapid antigen test upon arrival and have access to an on-site facility run by Doctor’s Hospital in Nassau. Staff are also tested at least once a week.
“We had the chance to work a bit in advance and build out the team even though they weren’t there at work,” says Boulud. He and his central team will remain very involved in operations, overseeing training and communicating with the kitchen daily. The staff includes both Boulud-world veterans and locals interested in getting experience with an internationally renowned restaurant group. “The energy was amazing,” says the chef — when it came time to finally open, “we turned a switch and everything came right back to life.”
The kitchen at Café Boulud The Bahamas is helmed by executive chef David LePage who, along with sous chef Antoine Baillargeon, has worked with the restaurant group for nearly a decade. LePage spent many years at Boulud’s New York restaurants before moving to London to take over at Bar Boulud in Hyde Park. “Then the pandemic happened and the London restaurant closed,” says Boulud. “I said to him, You know, I have a great opportunity for you.”
Those familiar with the original Café Boulud in Manhattan’s Upper East Side, or its sisters in Palm Beach and Toronto, will recognize some signature dishes. “The foundation and structure of the menu is very French,” says Boulud, “with a focus on the seasons and dishes that pair great with wine, since we have an amazing wine cellar.” (The wine list has a full page of island wines, “because when in the Bahamas…”) Classics include lobster with sauce américaine and Tournedos Rossini, filet mignon topped with seared foie gras and black truffle.
But though the spirit of the restaurant is French, both Boulud and Baha Mar wanted to pay homage to the ingredients and food culture around them. The chef and his team work with producers from New Providence and the surrounding islands, partnering with organic farms and hydroponic operations to source things like tomatoes and fresh herbs (ingredients that many other restaurants would need to import). And the Bahamas’ culinary influences shine through — especially in the “La Mer” section of the menu, which focuses on the bounty of the surrounding waters.
“Because we are by the sea, there’s a big emphasis on seafood,” says Boulud. Rotating specials allow the team to take advantage of the best ingredients on any given day. As part of the research for menu development, the team visited the fish market at Montagu Beach to browse the local catch. “They brought out all these fish,” Boulud remembers: “snapper, tigerfish, strawberry grouper, spiny lobster. Piles and piles of conch. A local guy showed me how to clean them and his technique was fantastic. He made me a conch salad right there, with tomato, onion, hot peppers, a little bit of orange juice, and salt. It was perfect.”