Canadian-educated sisters introduce modern heritage dining in Jamaica

Canadian-educated sisters introduce modern heritage dining in Jamaica

October 1, 2018

Sisters Suzanne and Michelle Rousseau have always had a love for fine food.

After graduating with honours from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) in the mid-1990s, they returned to Jamaica and started a café which evolved into a fine-dining restaurant that created a paradigm shift with its artful use of Jamaican ingredients and classic cooking techniques.

Now, they have embarked on their boldest and most creative endeavour with the launch of the Summerhouse at The Liguanea Club that provides food service for the 100-year-old member’s club and 39-room boutique hotel.

“The premise behind Summerhouse is what we call ‘Modern Heritage Dining,” Michelle said. “For us, what that translates into is the experience of taking the ingredients, the history and the way that these ingredients were consumed traditionally into a sort of frame of reference and re-presenting them in a modern and relevant way that the diners of today want to eat it. In the Caribbean, you eat your salt fish, curry goat or other things a particular way. We really felt we could present the cuisine in a slightly different way which would be giving a nod to the past, but with a vision to the future.”

Suzanne describes Summerhouse as ‘an all-encompassing manifestation of decades of travel, catering, cookbook writing and entrepreneurial spirit with their unmistakable Caribbean favor and style.’

The sisters resided in Trinidad & Tobago for four years up until 1981.

“We are bringing together the very best of Caribbean dining in one memorable place,” Suzanne added. “…Our style of cooking and interpretation of the cuisine is influenced by other islands in the region. We consume the same ingredients irrespective of how we cook them. We are more alike than we are different. For us, this is an opportunity to explore flavour profiles that we encounter outside Jamaica, but bring them here because at the end of the day, we are all West Indians.”

Michelle said female collaboration has its own magic.

“Women working together is an important element in bringing the Summerhouse concept to life,” she pointed out. 

Female leadership is a common theme throughout the kitchen, administration, management and suppliers/partners of the restaurant where breakfast and lunch are served and there are bar sites to accompany cocktails in the evening.

The menu features creamy callaloo dip, penne with ackee and coconut cream, sherried pumpkin bisque, curried mutton with coconut, white rum and mango and the Rousseau’s signature tomato scotch bonnet soup.

The bar has its own menu, an elevated pub food selection highlighting cassava crusted shrimp, gourmet mac & cheese, root chips with roasted tomato & scotch bonnet salsa and coco bites which is an island play on sliders with Appleton-infused bacon jam asserting the restaurant’s classification as a Caribbean gastropub.

Weekly tea and dinner service will be launched soon at the Summerhouse. The tea will feature an assortment of sandwiches made with house-cured meats, currant cream scones, house preserves and fresh fruit tartlets. Dinner service is available on selected nights with seasonal menus and paired wines.

“Dinner will be the guests’ best opportunity to become immersed in the concept of modern heritage dining with an option of either an a la carte or chef’s tasting menu,” said Suzanne.

The old world charm of the bar’s gilded roof, panelled walls and wooden bar is evidenced throughout the drink menu that features craft cocktails that reference the club’s legacy and the dirty martini, a favourite of James Bond whose first film, ‘Dr. No’, was shot in Jamaica and released in 1962.

A modern gin & tonic with a choice of cucumber, scotch bonnet, mint or lime garnish paves the way for other modern interpretations of old favourites, including the Summerhouse Sangaree (dark rum, port, cointreau, nutmeg), Blue Mountain Martini (Bailey’s, chocolate sauce, freshly brewed Blue Mountain coffee, Summerhouse Bellini (seasonal fruit puree, sparkling brut, mint) and Summerhouse Sparkle (rose syrup, sparkled brut and berries).

The champagne and wine list features a global selection of vintages from France, Chile, Spain, New Zealand, Argentina, the United States and Italy.

Though back in Jamaica for almost 25 years, the Rousseau sisters cherish the time spent in Canada while attending university in southern Ontario.

Siblings Michelle (l) & Suzanne Rousseau

Siblings Michelle (l) & Suzanne Rousseau

“Our parents were always focussed on Canada as an option for us academically because they felt that the education is very solid and one of the best we could get,” said Michelle who is the younger of the siblings. “It also helped that we have family here who have benefitted from the system.”

Their parents are Peter Rousseau who is an entrepreneur and Beverley Rousseau who is an interior decorator. Peter’s brother, Pat, is a former Cricket West Indies president.

More than just education, the Rousseau sisters gained an appreciation for Canada’s diversity which has created a society of mixed languages, religion and cultures.

“Canada, for us, is a microcosm of all of the Caribbean cultures,” Michelle pointed out. “When we went to school in Canada, it was really the first space outside of Jamaica that really consolidated our understanding of what it is like to be a West Indian away from home. There was a massive Caribbean community at the UWO and we were active on campus. One year, I was the treasurer and my sister was the social director of the Caribbean student organization.

“We also found that our social circle expanded to include so many people from so many countries. Those are people we wouldn’t have met had it not been for our UWO experience. It allowed us to explore the world and I just love Canada.”

Michelle graduated in 1993 with a degree in Spanish before pursuing a Master’s in Latin American studies. Her sister’s undergraduate degree is in English Literature with a minor in art history.

The Rousseau’s are the executive co-producers and culinary hostesses for the popular web series, ‘Island Potluck’, and a television series, ‘2 Sisters & a Meal’. They also launched their first cookbook, ‘Caribbean Potluck’, four years ago that was named among National Public Radio’s Best Books of 2014.

Their second book, ‘Provisions: The Roots of Caribbean Cooking’, features 150 vegetarian recipes and will be published next month.

The Liguanea Club is located at 88 Knutsford Blvd.

Summerhouse is located at The Liguanea Club

Summerhouse is located at The Liguanea Club

Breakfast is served seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10.30 a.m. Lunchtime is from noon to 3.30 p.m. and there’s a Sunday brunch from 11.30 a.m. to 2.30 p.m.

The bar is open daily between noon and 10 p.m.

For reservations, call (876) 906-6515. 

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