I am so ecstatic that a gourmet gift store has finally arrived in Antigua. It is a dream come true not only for Michelle George, the founder of this retail haven, but also for the many local craftspeople who now have an elegant central outlet in which their incredible handcrafted products can be displayed and sold to zealous buyers from
home and abroad.
As a staunch advocate of “buying locally”, and finding that first-class ‘native’ retail therapy has been missing from the streets of St. John’s for some time, Michelle has brought this back with uncompromising style. Her store has been lovingly designed to excite and mesmerize shoppers, who admire the Guyanese greenheart wooden shelves, the vintage rum barrels, the antique Caribbean props, the traditional enamel buckets and tin baths, not to mention the charming presentation tables brimming with an amazing variety of aesthetically exhibited products.
Everything in this shop has a story. Most items are homegrown and crafted right here in Antigua, but there are also many items that Michelle has handpicked from neighbouring islands. I was so impressed with her offerings that I just had to find out the migratory chronicles behind some of these diverse products and how they made their way to Antigua.
Grenadian products came to Michelle by way of a travelling sloop that distributes artisanal goods between the islands. (A sloop is a handcrafted traditional wood sailing yacht built on the island of Carriacou.) Browsing through the goods on offer De La Grenade’s Spicy Nutmeg Ginger Barbecue Sauce first caught Michelle’s eye. It is produced by the De La Grenade Home Products Company, started in the 1960s by the late Sybil La Grenade, and now owned and operated by the Governor General of Grenada, Dr. Cecile La Grenade, who is Sybil’s daughter. The company now boasts “My of 14 products in its range, including their flagship product, La Grenade Liqueur”.
Island Gourmet Boutique carries several of the De La Grenade sauces and their Nutmeg Syrup, which is a great alternative to simple syrup in cocktails, and drizzled on pancakes, waffles, ice creams and desserts. Grenada, “The spice island”, is extremely creative with nutmeg products. Michelle says, “They could probably build houses with it. Nutmeg products are available for use at every meal – breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Island Gourmet also stocks a variety of the organic dark-chocolate items produced by the “Tree-to-Bar” award-winning chocolatemakers, the Grenada Chocolate Company.
Michelle explains that every shipment of goods from Grenada is a challenge. Business is entitled to be exempt from duty on imported goods from within the CARICOM (Caribbean Community) region, but in order to claim the exemption the exporting company must send a CARICOM certificate and invoice with their goods. This doesn’t always happen! Adding to this dilemma there are no direct commercial shipping routes between our islands and goods can take weeks to arrive, but the products are worth the challenge!”
Even before the opening of the Island Gourmet Boutique store, Michelle used to travel regionally to attend the Caribbean Gift & Craft Show to procure goods for another of her businesses. The Caribbean Gift & Craft Show has since been renamed and rebranded to Design Caribbean, which was staged for the first time in 2011. But through her attendance at the original Caribbean Gift & Craft Show in Jamaica, Michelle received a call from the Jamaica Exporters’ Association, in conjunction with Jamaica Promotions (JAMPRO) to attend “Opportunities” exhibition Jamaica in 2013, just as she was gearing up to open her boutique. JAMPRO matched her with over 30 suppliers who met her buying criteria and scheduled 20-minute meetings with each supplier, allowing them to pitch their product lines directly to her. She placed orders with 11 suppliers before leaving Expo Jamaica 2013.
Michelle carries a good selection of products from Jamaica including honey, Home Choice Enterprises Peppered Shrimp and Solomon Gundy – Red Herring Pâté, House of Nature pure essential Lemon Grass oil and herbal teas. But some of the store favourites are the Sorrel and Ackee wines produced by Journey’s End Wine Company – they are planning to produce a Pimento berry wine too and won a 2014 “Bold Ones” award to gain marketing, advertising and publicity assistance from the Continental Baking Company in Jamaica. Michelle also stocks chocolates from Chocolate Dreams, a young Jamaican Chocolatier company producing handmade gift chocolates.
No Jamaican culinary range would be complete without Blue Mountain Coffee and this product is represented by the reputable Country Traders growers and processors brand. Recently, some Blue Mountain coffee crops have been infected by a fungus, so commercial coffee for export now has to be tested and certified fungus free. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee growers have also been angered by imitation coffee growers both from other areas of Jamaica and from other islands branding their coffee products as Blue Mountain. So Michelle warns,“Buyers beware! Make sure you buy Blue Mountain coffee from a trustworthy source.”
Another high-quality product range from Jamaica is Sandra McLeish’s Spring Vale Enterprise brand of fruit-based products. Sandra creates a 100% Jamaican-inspired set of vinaigrettes and salad dressings that are free of artificial flavourings, colourings, MSG and gluten. Her Roselle Hibiscus Chutney is a delight that my fridge is never without. Sandra has produced a selection of recipes using her products, and the sweet tangy acidity of her Golden Apple vinaigrette is perfect for fish ceviche. A must try. Sandra is a recipient of a prestigious Jamaican “Bold Ones” marketing award for local raw materials manufacturing.
Before I leave you salivating over the enticing merchandise range you’ll find at Island Gourmet Boutique – I just want to touch on the private label goods that are branded for the store under the Tailor’s Daughter line of Caribbean products. These products have been hand selected by Michelle, your well-seasoned culinary procurement guru, as her own line of elegant, but affordable Caribbean gifts. Each product has been manufactured using raw ingredients from different Caribbean islands.
In the Tailor’s Daughter range you will find local Barbudan Sea Salt, Homemade ‘double strength’ Vanilla Extract, Piña Colada Jam with Rum, Spiced Pepper Jelly, Guava Candy Liqueur made with real guava cubes, Caribbean Brown Sugar and the Tailors Daughter private blend medium/dark coffee – roasted by the Carib Bean Coffee Company in Antigua. You will also find a stunning range of West Indian Sea Island Cotton tableware gifts hand-woven in Antigua.
For the up-to-the-minute tidbits on inspiring foodie happenings and irresistible Caribbean artisanal gifts visit the Island Gourmet Boutique. No trip to Antigua will be complete until you have stepped into this Caribbean gourmand’s paradise.