Travel 2 minutes 06 August 2019

Where Chefs Go: The Bahamas

Chicago’s daring chef Iliana Regan provides an unexpected take on this Caribbean hotspot.

travel Where Chefs Go

Iliana Regan is the executive chef of the rustic one-MICHELIN-starred Elizabeth in Chicago. Regarded by our inspectors for her “unique hunting and foraging” approach to cooking, Regan utilizes “ingredients in ways that push the envelope,” with dishes like “wildly fresh cheese set over sorel mushroom purée and topped with a cloud of elderflower foam, spruce shoots and foraged plant bulbs, bread service featuring soft goat butter, crisp pork cracklings and luscious whipped lardo” or “a knob of turbot . . . dressed with beurre monté and crunchy white asparagus.”

An accomplished chef with a story to tell, Regan is also the author of a new memoir called Burn the Place. It details her upbringing as the youngest of four girls on a family farm in Northwest Indiana, and includes her personal struggles as a “little girl who longed to be a boy,” queer-identified in an intolerant community, and later “an alcoholic before she turned 20.”

Regan’s fascinating life story no doubt includes a sense of travel and adventure. When asked for her favorite destination, she gave an unexpected reply: The Bahamas. A historical getaway for East Coast leisure seekers, the Bahamas (known officially as the Commonwealth of the Bahamas) is a country within the Lucayan Archipelago made up over over 700 islands, cays (defined as a “low bank or reef of coral, rock or sand”) and islets in the Atlantic Ocean.

Photo courtesy of Marley Resort & Spa.
Photo courtesy of Marley Resort & Spa.

When Regan goes, she stays at the Marley Resort & Spa in Nassau, the capital city. “This is [Bob Marley’s] old house turned into a boutique hotel,” she says. Following an assassination attempt in Jamaica in 1976, Bob and Rita Marley spotted this former governer’s mansion and decided to convert it into their private vacation home. “There are very few employees, [and] you see the same people almost everyday.” Lush gardens and an oceanfront location give the hotel a sense of quiet that Regan loves. “If you go off season,” she says, “you're likely to have the place to yourself, which is amazing.”

For breakfast, Regan sticks to the hotel and suggests keeping it simple: “plantains, red beans and rice, two sunny-side-up eggs” is her daily order. “It's all you need.” For lunch, she suggests an outing. Walk “under the bridge that connects to Atlantis and [order] fried grouper and conch salad,” she instructs. You’ll find several spots, but don’t feel pressured to choose one over another. “It seems a little sketchy,” she laughs, “but honestly just go to any of these places.” (On the topic of Atlantis, Regan recommends skipping it. “It’s too commercialized.”)

For dinner in the area, Regan loves the Graycliff Restaurant, set inside the historical 18th century Graycliff Hotel. It’s “[an] extremely fancy and expensive meal with very old school service,” Regan says. “They've been around for a very long time and have a massive wine cellar, which my wife loved.” While at Graycliff, Regan suggests checking out the “water menu” that she describes as “lots of sparkling waters to choose from, which I loved.”

Photo courtesy of Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant.
Photo courtesy of Graycliff Hotel & Restaurant.

After dinner, be sure to walk around the premises and take in the old-school Bahamian scene. The hotel was originally built by Captain John Howard Graysmith, a notorious pirate of the Caribbean who commanded the feared schooner Graywolf with which he plundered treasure ships along the Spanish Main. If you’re in the mood to linger at the hotel into the later hours, follow the sound of music. “There's a live musician on piano,” Regan recalls. “If you are lucky it might be the woman who sounds like Billie Holiday.”

For a daytime excursion from Nassau, Regan recommends going by boat to Exuma. “It [takes] about two hours to get there,” she says. “A very bumpy ride, but worth it because [you get] to swim with pigs in the crystal clear waters.” On the way there, try and stop off at other islands if possible. “[The boat we took] also [stopped] at another spot where the sand is the softest sand I've ever touched and you can see everything through the water,” Regan says. “It's amazing.”

Exuma is a district of the Bahamas made up of over 365 islands, the largest of which is Great Exuma that is over 30 miles in length and joined to another island called Little Exuma by a small bridge. If you get a chance to swim with pigs while on Exuma, Regan recommends getting close enough to catch one. “Holding the baby pigs is like holding a little puppy that makes little grunting noises.”

For casual daytime fun around Nassau, Regan recommends renting a Polaris to drive around the town. “It’s fun and easy,” she says, “but remember to stay on your side of the street.” Many Nassau rental cars bare the sticker “Drive on the Left” and the city is known for its narrow streets—which makes driving that much more of an adventure.


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