STAR of the Table

Scott Ames loves Christmas. For him, it’s the joy of hosting friends and family, or as he calls it, “the big lime”. And for the accomplished chef, of course, it’s also about the food.

While this Englishman turned Barbadian may not prepare the typical Barbadian Christmas spread, there is one element of the traditional Bajan feast that always makes an appearance on his table — a ham.

As one would expect from a chef, not just any ham makes the cut. Scott makes his own hams and says the process is surprisingly easy, and the results are worth the effort.

“It begins with a quality piece of pork from a local butcher. Ask your butcher to debone it. I like a deboned ham; it just makes life a lot easier to cut it. It takes seven days on average to make a pork to a ham; you just need to be very organized.”

And easy it is; starting with the brine. “Day one, you make brine. Let it cool down in a big pot.

On day two, get the pork, tie it, roll it, and drop it in the brine. Every two days you need to rotate it. Give a quick rinse when taken out of brine — this takes five days, and then smoke it.”

Acknowledging that not everyone owns a smoker, he says there are places around the island where meat can be smoked. However, if that is not feasible, that step can be skipped. He also says smoking isn’t a long process: “after four hours it’s smoked — no matter how you look at it.”

After this, it’s onto baking the meat. “After I take it out of the smoker, I do the usual Bajan ham thing — foil and throw it in the oven on low heat, let it cook out for a few hours through the middle, take out, take the skin off and you can do whichever glaze you like.”

For our tasting session, Scott opted for a Mount Gay glaze, but notes, “I’m also a mustard, honey and clove kind of guy, everyone is different. And that’s the entire process — it’s very simple but it’s very methodical.”

To achieve the best results during the baking and glazing phase, he offers this tip: “When you glaze, do not put it on all at once. I cook my ham for about 45 minutes, and every eight minutes, I put more on and more on, so a slow process is better for the glaze. The glaze is very important.”

Scott’s brine and glaze are also easy to make — the brine is simply one third beer, two-thirds water, sugar and salt, but packs a punch in the flavour department. The rum glaze consists of equal quantities of honey and sugar and of course, rum.

He jokingly adds: “Me, I went heavy handed on the rum, but it’s a matter of choice for how much to use. Everyone is different.”

“It begins with a quality piece of pork from a local butcher. Ask your butcher to debone it. I like a deboned ham; it just makes life a lot easier to cut it.”

With the ham out of the way, the conversation quickly turned to the menu for this year’s spread, which he says changes every year. In what has become tradition, it will be an English versus Bajan roast off, incorporating elements from his home and elements from his wife, Astra’s, Barbadian heritage.

“This year will include ribeye roast of beef, Yorkie pudding, potatoes versus macaroni pie, a cheese board, which is also an annual Christmas tradition and of course, smoked ham.”

So how did Scott land on a career in the culinary arts and management? As he tells it, he knew at age 16.

“I got a part time job in cooking at 16 and loved it. I come from a long line of hoteliers but had no interest in working in that area; I fell in love with cooking back then.”

And he’s not the only one in his family who has a passion for the kitchen. His 16-year-old, Torrin, shows an aptitude for cooking, while three-year-old Ethan is Daddy’s helper whenever he can.

Although a professional chef, don’t expect him to prepare elaborate meals as a daily occurrence. While he and his wife love hosting weekly dinner parties where he happily prepares the food and guests bring the wine, he says their approach to everyday eating is minimalist, comprising salads, chicken and fish.

“We also do lots of grazing. We have a pizza oven, we have taco nights. . . we don’t get very posh. At the end of the day, good food is street food and simple food; don’t complicate things.”

With a preference for healthy and organic eating, Scott shies away from red meat and too many carbs and he grows his own herbs which he uses in his creations.

He also advocates patronising local farmers.

His go-to seasonings for meat are simply, kosher salt and pepper, but he incorporates homemade Bajan seasoning into his dishes. His favourite herbs from his kitchen garden include thyme, lemongrass marjoram, chives and oregano.

With Christmas a few weeks away and with four days off, he is looking forward to decorating, entertaining and enjoying the season with good food, good friends and family.

Sustainability Tip

Consider energy efficient cooking practices by baking several dishes simultaneously to reduce the amount of energy consumed.

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