World-renowned Chef, Dean Max, The King of American Seafood explores The Bahamas & the Pink Sands Resort with Andy and Todd. From bustling Nassau to serene Harbor Island, The Bahamas offers experiences like the mystery of the blue holes, the novelty of Pig Beach, the pleasure of flamingo watching, reef diving, the adrenaline of cave-diving, and shark swimming and the intense energy of Junkanoo. Joining us is Chef Dean James Max, founder, executive chef, and culinary director at DJM Restaurants, who takes us on a tour of his restaurant in The Bahamas’ Pink Beach, Harbor Island, where they give guests a taste of sea-to-table dining, Bahamian style. Chef Dean also shares a cool conch recipe that will give you a taste of this tropical paradise.
Andy McNeill and Todd Bludworth are travel and hospitality entrepreneurs and owners of the global meetings organization, American Meetings, Inc. From sourcing meetings in The Bahamas, to corporate event management around the world, their team selects corporate event venues and meeting planners for a wide array of enterprise business clients, providing ideas for convention themes and strategies for running global meetings and events. Learn more at www.americanmeetings.com.
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It’s time to get you lost in a daydream of coral reefs, beaches, white and pink sands in this episode. Admit it, you are ready. When many of us think of a vacation, we think about relaxing oceanside, having fun in the water, and sightseeing. These are all adventures to The Bahamas. Whether seeking the bustling excitement of Nassau for a meeting or incentive trip, the family-friendly Atlantis for a family reunion, or the romantic secluded Exumas, The Bahamas should be on every traveler’s bucket list. In this episode, we will speak with the crowned King of American seafood, Chef Dean Max. He will delight us with ideas and local flavors of the re-imagined Bahamas. We will learn about the personality of the different islands, tricks to finding the best tropical experiences, and where to land for some relaxing downtime. A playground for the rich and famous, you too are invited to play in the turquoise waters of the over 700 islands of The Bahamas.
We are going to The Bahamas, a place that I grew up, going to the first international destination. I grew up in Florida. Fifty miles due East is one of the most beautiful archipelagos in the world as far as I’m concerned. It’s beautiful. I am thrilled to be able to go there and share some of my bucket list items, the things I did while I was growing up, as well as share with you a very special guest, which is Dean Max. He is the Chief Executive at DJM Restaurants, and he’s got restaurants all over the world, but he’s got a special one in The Bahamas. He’s also a Florida-born and an old friend of mine as well. He has been spending his life going to The Bahamas. Between the two of us and Todd, we’re going to bring a lot of great content to you about where to go, what to do, everything from the big island of Nassau where you can have large events to the small, more intimate things like Harbor Island where it’s much more concise and little boutique hotels and venues to do stuff. I’m excited to share with you The Bahamas.
I was in a military family. Growing up, I always had this vision of The Bahamas in my head of what it would be like and what the experience was like. I always thought The Bahamas was 1 or 2 islands. I had no idea how big it was and how many islands are part of it.
There are 700 islands and only 30 of them are inhabited.
Let me tell you about my first trip to The Bahamas. I was probably in my early twenties and I went out on one of those day cruise things. It was one of those big boats that left from Port Everglades. I think it was a Michelob Light Beer Cruise or something. We went to Nassau because that’s where they go. You’re off the boat for about two hours. You jump into the casino, then you get on this boat and you come back. I was like, “The Bahamas wasn’t that great. It’s not what I pictured in my head,” until I had gone back later and we went to the Abacos. It’s striking and it’s beautiful. The water was crystal clear. The animals and the sea life blew me away. That first trip, if I had let that dictate my vision of The Bahamas, I probably never would have gone back. I’m glad I did.
It’s also changed so much in the last years with the large resorts that are now in Nassau that are best in class. It’s incredible. We can’t forget that this nation was hit incredibly hard by Hurricane Dorian and the right in the path of a lot of the hurricanes that come through. We’re going to talk a little bit later in the episode about how you can help and they still need help with money and funds to help rebuild some of these out islands. They got hit hard.
Was that the Category Five that stayed over the Abacos? Was that Irma or was that Dorian?
That was Dorian. It sat there for three days. It was pretty devastating. Let’s talk about all the great things about The Bahamas. If you go to Nassau, the big islands, the world’s largest colony of pink flamingos is there. It’s amazing. If you’re going to go to The Bahamas and you’re there, it’s one of those things you want to see. When you see this acre after acre of these beautiful pink flamingos, it’s gorgeous. You definitely want to try that. There are many things to do there. Christopher Columbus landed in The Bahamas first. That’s been documented. There’s some controversy about whether it was the Island of San Salvador or Samana Cay. They know for a fact that he references going to The Bahamas first before he hit American soil.
The big property that everybody is aware of in The Bahamas is the Atlantis Hotel. The Atlantis was always like the big fish in a very small pond. Now, we’re seeing some other huge properties developed. It was primarily around the Nassau area. There are new collective hotels. It was at Baja Mar which is 3 or 4, possibly more each individually branded. There’s a Starwood and a Rosewood, but in terms of the size and scope, those are going to be right there in Nassau. When you go out to the outer islands, you’re not going to see those big hotels and you’re not going to see the casinos everywhere that you do see on Nassau. I think when you plan a trip to The Bahamas, if you’re going for the casinos, that’s great. If you want to see The Bahamas, get outside of Nassau. Go to another Island, the Exumas and Abacos or do both.
Go to the Big Island of Nassau and see these incredible properties that they’ve built. Even though they’re large, you can get away very easily on that island. If you want to take a day trip to one of the islands, a sailboat or a fishing boat to any of the islands, north or south, they’re very abundant and an incredible experience. There’s something for everybody in The Bahamas. We can’t wait to share it with you.
I know you grew up going to The Bahamas. You’ve told me your dad had a little plane that you guys could go and access. It’s 50 miles from South Florida. It’s a quick trip. What are your favorite memories of The Bahamas growing up?
The very first memory that I have is of the deepest sinkhole in the world, which is right there. That was the very first place I ever went to when I was a kid. I was probably eight years old. It’s 662 feet deep. You go from this crystal green water to this deep blue that still to this day, I’ve never seen anything bluer and you dive this hole. At nine years old, it was a fantastic experience. I went with my dad and my brother. We slept on the boat right at the hole. It was an incredible experience. I don’t think we ever even got on land. We went straight from there on a boat and came straight back. Growing up going into the Northern Bahamas, which is 180 miles due East of Palm Beach, that was an incredible experience. The diving and being in such an unspoiled space. Because growing up in the United States, you have suburbs, cities and you go right in an hour and be in the middle of nowhere and see true nature at its finest. The reefs are gorgeous. The fishing is incredible and the beaches are some of the best in the world.
There were two words that were added to my vocabulary when I went to The Bahamas. One, Goombay Smash. It was the national drink. It’s a very fruity pineapple rummy. The second word was a Potcake. Your parents brought some potcakes. This isn’t food. What is a potcake, Andy? Because you grew up with them in your house.
A potcake is a Bohemian dog. There are lots of wild dogs on the islands. Before you weren’t allowed to, you could bring them back and adopt them. My parents had spent our entire child adopting potcakes and bringing them back from The Bahamas. The other reference is the Goombay Smash, which is the national drink which is pineapple juice, orange juice and three different types of rums. That’s where the smash comes in.
If anybody goes to The Bahamas with Andy, when they get there, the first thing they’re going to get or see is probably a tray of Goombay Smashes because that was always available upon your arrival if you went with Andy. It was great and it was a nice way to kick off sometime in The Bahamas.
There’s so much stuff to do over and over again. I can’t speak to all the great experiences that I’ve had in The Bahamas. We’re excited to bring them to you and speak to Chef Dean Max about the Bahamian Fair, and he’s going to give me a recipe as well.
At AMI, we are passionate about meeting connections that change lives. For over twenty years, we have traveled our clients all over the globe supporting their business goals and helping them stand apart from hotel sourcing to audiovisual magic. We’ll help make your corporate meetings or events second to none. Go to AmericanMeetings.com to learn more. American Meetings, AMI, meeting, planning perfected.
We are going to start talking about some of our top bucket lists. We had to pare this down because there are so many things. I think the first one I’m going to mention is cave diving in The Bahamas. A lot of people don’t know you can do this, but there is a huge network of underwater caves. You need to go with a professional. Don’t try to do it yourself. Some of the best cave diving in the Caribbean is right in The Bahamas. Something we used to do growing up, which is another one is soaking in the Queen’s Bath of Eleuthera, which are this kind of natural hot tubs made out of coral and the waves come crashing over you. As a kid, I remember we were having the best time doing it. You sit there and act like you’re sitting in a hot tub and then these waves would come over and bring nice warm Caribbean water into these holes for you. It’s a great experience and one you should add to your list.
One that I remember, and I had no idea this was even a thing in The Bahamas, we were out on a boat and we were somewhere outside of Treasure Cay. We look over and there’s a small island and there are pigs all over the beach. Obviously, since then, you’ve noticed it and you see things for it, but you can actually go swim and hang out with the pigs on the beach. That is in Exuma. There’s Big Major Cay, I’ve heard it called Pig Beach before or Pig Island but check it out. If you google it, you can find out exactly where they are.
There’s an island off of the Treasure Cay near Green Turtle. There’s also one down and Eleuthera, but there are several there and it’s a great experience. The pigs will actually swim out to your boat. That’s a great bucket list item and one definitely worthy of social media. It’s a lot of fun.
They’re huge. There are piglets. There are some small ones, but there are some big ones. They’re intimidating when they’re coming at you. You’re like, “Are they friendly? Are they not?” Everything I’ve seen, they’re very friendly pigs and they’re used to humans. My brain wasn’t working when you see them because it’s an island with Palm tree and then pigs and nobody else around. It was neat to see that.
Another great thing to add to your bucket list, especially if you go to the outer islands, every island has its own tradition of how to do a fish fry. It’s definitely a local thing and something that you can ask any local about, but there’ll always be a weekly fish fry. A popular one is on Arawak Cay where they had these shacks there and they do it on an ongoing basis. They have a daily selection of local fish that was just caught. They fried up and they serve it to your right there. Most of the events have music and it’s a festival atmosphere so add that to your list.
If you go out on one of the snorkeling or diving excursions or go out just by yourself and you do catch fresh fish, you can bring that sometimes to many restaurants and they will filet it and cook it for you on-site. It doesn’t get much fresher than that.
You don’t have to go to Australia to see some of the world’s best diving either. There’s a great barrier reef off of Andros Island. There’s incredible diving everywhere in The Bahamas, but this is one of the largest barrier reefs in the world. If you can’t make it all the way to Australia, this is a great place to go and you’ll see incredible fish, tropical fish. You’ll see sharks. You’ll see everything under the sun and I highly recommend it as a bucket list item. It’s one of the largest in The Bahamas.
Another one that I think is wonderful is a festival called Junkanoo. It’s a celebration. Junkanoo celebrates Boxing Day and it is on December 26th. You’ll see stilt walkers dancing and bright outfits. It almost has a Mardi Gras flare, but it is distinctly Caribbean. It is of African origin, but it’s great. Cowbells, drums, trumpets, and everything. A little story about Boxing Day. For those of you who don’t know what it is, if you’re from Europe, the UK does it. Boxing Day is typically a day after Christmas where servants who would work for the wealthy where they wouldn’t have to work on December 25th. Their bosses would box up gifts and then they would open it on the day after Christmas, which is typically a holiday for staff. I thought that was interesting. You don’t want to miss it if you’re there around the holidays.
That’s the day after Christmas, but they do Junkanoos now all the time. It’s almost like a second-line in New Orleans. It’s the same idea, a celebration and a parade.
You’ll also see the Caribbean communities around the country do Junkanoo parades for different Caribbean festivals and things like that. It may not be on Boxing Day, but you’ll get the idea. If you want the authentic experience, get to The Bahamas and experience Junkanoo.
[bctt tweet=”From the novelty of Pig Beach to the fanfare of Junkanoo Festival, The Bahamas is a bucket full of diverse, fun and exciting experiences.” via=”no”]
Another thing, and this is something I’d never been to, but I saw it and said, “We just have to add this.” The world’s largest underwater sculpture is off the coast of Nassau. It’s a seventeen-foot statue of a hunched woman symbolizing the weight of the environmental burden on the younger generation. To communicate and to promote conservancy of the oceans. It’s a great and wonderful thing. Check it out online. If you’re in The Bahamas, in the Nassau area, it’s a great thing to go see and do.
Also, you’ve got pink sand beaches on Harbor Island. Those are unique to The Bahamas. If you look at some of the pictures, it looks like the color of the pictures off, but the actual sand is beautiful. If you’re looking at a sunset photo and it’s on the pink sand beach, everything looks pink and it glows, but gorgeous. Be sure to walk down the pink sand beaches.
It’s a microorganism called foraminifera, which gives it the pink hue on the beaches itself. When the sun hits it, it adds to the beauty and grandeur of the beach that you’re on. It’s absolutely beautiful.
You mentioned the microorganisms of the pink sand beaches and that reminds me of a time we were at Treasure inside of the elbow there in that water. It was a dark night. We sat in the shallow water and just move our hands back and forth quickly. You could see the phosphorescence, which is a green light that will appear when you’re doing this in the water. I never heard or seen of that before. It was amazing because it’s pitch black and then you’re looking down now and you’ve got light around your hands.
The first time I was over there, as a little boy, one of those memories I’ll never forget is the first time I saw where I was, what I was doing. It truly is incredible. It’s awesome on a moonless night when there’s no moon to dim what’s happening inside the ocean. It’s beautiful. Another thing that’s great and you can do this in lots of different places in The Bahamas is swim with the sharks. At Compass Cay that’s an activity that you could do inside the Marina and they have nurse sharks. It’s a guided tour and something where you can swim with them with the guides. Nurse sharks are docile, but you still need to be careful. It can be a credible experience if you want to swim with sharks.
We could go on and on about The Bahamas. There’s such a great diverse culture there over these huge spans of land. Each of these islands contributes to its own special thing, which makes The Bahamas The Bahamas.
I’m excited to have our next guest, Chef Dean Max from DJM Restaurants. Dean is an old friend and old fraternity brother from back at Florida State University. Dean, you have been on a complete tear since college becoming one of the top chefs in America. You were crowned the King of American Seafood a few years back. How do you get crowned that? You’ve got to tell me that story.
It’s a fun story. It was a big national competition that the Wild American Seaford Organization put on to promote American-based seafood. We’ve got an exciting time. The governor of each coastal state had appointed a chef. There’s non-coastal too because there are some from the Midwest as well would appoint one chef to go and represent the state. I was appointed that year. I went there to New Orleans and competed against a lot of different chefs from different states and had a blast. It was a good time. It promoted what the concept was, which is serving great local fish from the area that you’re from and pairing it with something cool. My dish won. It was a good experience and we had a fun time doing it.
Do you remember the recipe that you did?
We sell a lot of clams from Florida all over the state. Cedar Key is a big area that sells clams all over the country. I wanted to kind of feature, especially because it was a season for those. I wanted to feature that dish with this unique smoked bacon that we get from the South. I made this play on a BLT. It was this clam BLT. It became a popular dish.
You have restaurants all over the country. Why don’t you tell everybody really quick where you’re located so if they’re in that city, they might be able to stop by one of your places and we’re going to talk about the one that’s actually in The Bahamas.
From college, I don’t know if I ever cooked you dinner, Andy.
I think you were in charge of the Mess Hall at the fraternity house for a year or two?
I should have done that. I would’ve gotten probably a good experience cooking for banquets. Since then I have traveled all over the world. I lived in Italy. I lived in San Francisco. I lived in DC. I lived in Colorado. I traveled all over Europe, South and Central America to learn about food because it was a big passion of mine. I went to the Business School at Florida State. It took a different turn from that, but the business end of Florida State helped me in growing as a chef because now I’m up to eleven restaurants. They’re nationwide, in California, Dallas, Oklahoma, Florida in The Bahamas as well, like we talked about.
In the Cayman Islands, I have a cluster of restaurants down there too. It’s been great. I get this great opportunity to travel and share my passion for food with all my chefs, as well as the people in those areas and learn a lot. Being a Florida boy, I’ve based my stuff around seafood. I have a seafood cookbook called A Life By the Sea. That’s all about cooking seafood simple. Through the years, I think I love doing seafood. In Dallas, I have a restaurant called Asador, which is based around meats. I do a little bit of everything.
Dean, can you explain a little bit of the hierarchy of a kitchen? I think now that cooking and there are celebrity chefs. My kids will watch cooking shows all day long, whether it’s baking or cooking and they love them. There are executive chefs, sous-chefs and prep people. Tell us a little about what happens in the kitchens in your restaurants.
People ask me this all the time too. They’re like, “How are you running eleven restaurants and then you’re drinking a beer with me on the beach in The Bahamas?” It’s careful planning and great people. I’ve got guys and girls who’ve been working with me for over many years. What happens is in the hierarchy of a restaurant, you’ve got the creative leader in the kitchen, which is your executive chef an then you’ve got your restaurant manager who handles the front. Those two people in all my restaurants usually are the people that I have been working with me for a while. Their job is to cascade down to the bottom, all the way to the prep cooks and to the food runners a culture of what we’re looking for, of freshness, of localism and of why we do what we do, explaining that to the guests.
In the kitchen, it’s developing a passion for seeking out local ingredients and developing those in a fresh and simple way and following a concept. When you look at a restaurant like The Bahamas or the Cayman Islands, we love to feature the local seafood as much as we can. Local produce, local herbs and vegetables in that area first. I don’t want to go there and have my chef trying to bring in asparagus and white truffles from Italy and all these different places. That’s not what it’s about. People come to The Bahamas and to the Cayman Islands to taste what is unique to that area.
The hierarchy in the kitchen, it’s starting from the bottom to up. You’ve got to have all those key pieces. The sous-chef has to be growing up underneath of these chefs. Growing these people along the way is the only way I can expand because when I go to open a new restaurant, the first thing I do is go back to all these eleven restaurants and I’ll sit and talk with my executive chefs to go, “Who’s the most talented ready for the next executive chef job.” They move up and it helps. Even when it comes to the bar, you see all these bars nowadays were all craft bars with unique cool styles of local stuff and that’s how I do it.
We’ve been to Even Keel a few times and it’s great because you don’t mind if you’re waiting, which you rarely do, but you want to find time to hit the bar and have a drink, get ready to get settled in for a meal. The atmosphere is wonderful. We used to do the same at 3030, but I like Even Keel because it’s off on its own and it’s easy to get to for us. The food is amazing. The staff has been awesome.
I wanted to do with Even Keel something that fish oyster house you get into New Orleans, Charleston, or Boston even. Something like a Neptune or one of these places where it’s just all about great simple seafood. I didn’t want to do it as fancy as 3030 Ocean. I want people to be able to come like twice a week and just get some oysters, some fish dip and maybe something simple like a lobster roll.
Are you pulling a lot of your business outside, setting up outside seating, covered areas? It’s easier for you to do that. I know a lot of the Northern restaurants, this is such a small window for them, but you have access to a big span of prepping and cooking for people, especially during this kind of crisis.
We got a nice big patio too. We’ve been setting up out there. Our bar area is big. We actually have an Eden area in the bar, which it’s easy for us to spread people out. The restaurant is fairly big. We can spread people out and still have a good night for us. That’s been nice.
Let’s turn our focus on The Bahamas. Like me, you grew up going to The Bahamas. You’re a Florida boy. Give us some of your top places to go to. Either you go back or you’ve got great memories. I grew up going to the Northern Bahamas, the Abacos, which is known for its nice trade winds, great sailing, amazing diving and snorkeling, and great fishing. What do you remember? What were some of your greatest memories and locations you’d like to go to?
I’ve had multiple as well but I’ve never been to the Abacos and I’ve been wanting to go there really bad. After that hurricane, I think I’m going to be waiting for a little while. It’s funny enough. In the early ‘80s when I was in high school, a big thing to do is everybody went to The Bahamas from Florida. If you had a boat, you’re hitting The Bahamas in the summer. A lot of the big tourism in Nassau and Freeport was so strong too. Back in those days, those areas were fun to go to. They weren’t too big yet. My first experience was my parents taking me there because my dad liked to gamble too. He loved to go to the casinos there and it was a fun getaway in the summer.
As I got in my teenage years, we started to go fishing and diving all over The Bahamas. My favorite has been the outer Bahamas. Going to Harbor Island with pink sands and Eleuthera. It’s like Abaco in the same way. It’s quieter and more rural. You call it the country of The Bahamas. You got a big city and you got to the country. They all have different things to offer. I spent many years going down to the southern part down to Turks and Caicos as well. I brought in conch a lot. Conch is probably the biggest export when it comes to seafood for the Island.
[bctt tweet=”When people come to The Bahamas, they want to taste what’s unique to that area. Restaurants should take that to consideration.” via=”no”]
I’ll never forget the woman that was our housekeeper. Every time we showed up in The Bahamas, she would bring us fresh conch and then she would make conch fritters and conch chowder. It’s a real staple of the community over there. You mentioned Pink Sands Resort and that’s where you have Malcolm 51 and Blue Bar. Tell us a little bit about the menu there and what people can expect if they go.
What you can expect is a good balance of great local products. We try to look stuff that we can get in the area and then balance it with things that we have to import. We work on the things that we do import and importing things that work well for that. I do like to serve what we have here. We have some great farms in Eleuthera. It is used to be great farming and tons of pineapple, tons of tomatoes and goat peppers, and lots of cool things. You’ve got these tropical things that a lot of people haven’t tasted like breadfruit, cassava and all these vegetables. A lot of people in America, you don’t get to eat it because it can’t stand the freeze.
Even in Southern Florida, I’ve seen 1 or 2 trees down in Homestead, but you don’t see many and ackee, too. It’s funny enough. I live in South Florida in Deerfield and there’s a guy in the area. I don’t know who he is. I’ve talked to him before. I’ve seen him in his yard. I’m like, “Can I grab some of that fruit?” Because he’s got an ackee tree there and you never see that. I love ackee. Those kinds of things, even on our property, we’ve got some nice fruits. We’ve got sugar-apples that you don’t find. It’s nice to be able to take those items. You’ll always find conch because if you come to The Bahamas, you don’t have concho then you’ve missed that part of the culture. Grouper has been something that we’ve been watching because we’re all concerned with the sustainability of it.
Is it being overfished now?
It’s naturally sustainable. It’s a slow-growing fish. The oldest females have the best eggs. Back in the days, it was overfished because they spawn in the spring. In the wintertime and springtime is when everybody wants to go to The Bahamas. That’s when you want to have a lot of groupers. Catching groupers easy when they’re spawning because they run in a circle together and they’re trying to mate. It’s easy to catch them in nets and to grab them at that time. It was also the time where too many were being taken. Now, we try to watch how many we take and what time of the year we take them.
In Harbor Island, do people bring fresh fish to the chefs or the chefs sourced locally from local fishermen?
We’ve got fishermen coming in every day. We’ll get guys from Eleuthera, they’ll spearfish for hogfish and those kinds of things. Guys will bring in Tuna, Wahoo, Mahi, Kingfish, and all kinds of fish like that. The fishing changes at different times of the year. We focused on that and then we’ll have random octopus and things like that that we’ll have on the menu. We balanced the menu with steaks and pastas. Sometimes it can be quiet. If you’re busy on the weekend, it’s quiet during the middle of the week. My chef and I have a lot of experience making pastas. That’s one of those items that you can make. In a fast-paced environment like America, having people like handmade pasta is tough. Sometimes when we have extra labor, we’ll do that. It’s different too, people don’t understand, we’re on a small island in Harbor Island. Our workers come over from Eleuthera, they’re coming for the day, whether we’re busy or not. We get them making pastas. We do a lot of handmade ravioli, tortellini and cavatelli. It’s nice to feature that too. When you come off the beach too, sometimes you’re super hungry all day and having a nice pasta with a beautiful lobster stuffed pasta or a nice cavatelli with local crab is fun.
Dean, when we take clients and things out to dinner or to a restaurant, there’s always that one person that likes to say, “Can I meet the chef? Can I talk to the chef?” Do your chefs embrace that? Do they like going out to the table and meeting the guests? I know they’re always busy in the kitchen, but sometimes that little extra touch goes a long way with someone who’s footing the bill.
It does too. Jed Fox is my executive chef. He’s been there for years in my property at The Bahamas, which is a long time. He’s come to love the island. We worked for one of the same chefs in DC together. He’s lived in Thailand. He used to be an army kid. He used to travel a lot. He’s used to that, but he loves the island and he’s embraced the lifestyle there. He comes out all the time to meet our guests. Harbor Island is a little bit more small laid back. It’s a very exclusive Island. It’s been an island where this culture of traveling back every year for their vacation.
Sometimes we do get new people that come to the island, but we have a lot of family tradition where grandparents have been taking their grandkids there and now taking their grandkids there. You’re talking about 70 years of tradition. That resort has been around since the ‘50s. Malcolm 51 is our fine dining restaurant in there. That’s our dinner restaurant. It’s named after the original owners Malcolm. It was formed in 1951. At that time, they had groups of people who stayed there, but they had little bungalows and everybody ate one dinner. When on there, we’ll do these guest chefs dinners. We do these family-style dinners in remanence of the way that they used to do the dinners, which is they made this beautiful dinner with local products they have that night. You didn’t come in and even choose. You just ate whatever they made. It’s fun. We do that on occasion too.
I’ve not been into the Pink Sands Resort. It’s has been around for a long time. Tell our readers how many rooms does it have?
Pink Sands Resort is only 23 bungalows and houses. We keep growing. We’re building more houses, but the nature of there’s no main property with multiple rooms in it. We have the main house structure that has our restaurant on it. There’s a game room with a beautiful old billiards table and a library. You can have tea in there. We’ve got two beautiful little tennis courts. We have all these walking paths that you can meander around the property through all of the greenery and see some of the breadfruit trees and some of the different flowering trees that are on there. We have a garden as well. You can go see that.
Most of the bungalows are either studio bungalows. We have 1 and 2-bedroom bungalows, and then we have some two-bedroom and three-bedroom houses that are very exclusive. It’s great for couples coming on a honeymoon or coming with a small group of people where you want to get a bungalow or you can get a house together or families getting a house together. Even if you’re going to have a small getaway business meeting with your executives and you want to take over the whole resort. It’s great for small weddings too. People will come over because, with 23 bungalows, you can come in there with 50 people and have a wedding.
You own the whole place for them.
It’s yours and we cater it just for you. Our staff works with you and I work with you. I’ll try to get over there for those special weddings myself and help in.
Dean, how much do you accommodate? You always have those guests, especially in a restaurant that thinks they know probably more than the chefs or the bartenders. They always try to throw you a zinger, but how accommodating are your chefs at changing menu items? Is that something that they roll their eyes at and they’re like, “Really?” When it’s too much? I’ve been at the table with people and you just want to walk out because they’re just so embarrassing. They’ll send a steak back three times and then they’ll ask for the chef. You guys have to have the patience of Job to deal with some of these people because I know I do.
When you’re talking about a crowd of people that come to Harbor Island, they get what they want and their lifestyle on a normal basis. We get top executives coming down there and nobody says no to them. Otherwise, they lose their jobs. I don’t believe in saying, no. I like to say yes, as much as I can, but there are some things you just can’t do. If you make a conch fritter batter, you can’t take sometimes the peppers out of it. Some of those things you can’t do, but we do make tons of accommodations. The resort is exclusive. It’s about being accommodating to our guests and giving them what they want. We guide them. My chef’s good about coming out and talking to them.
Some people have many dietary restrictions. I’m a very healthy guy. I love eating clean. We try to keep our food like that. We don’t use a lot of processed stuff. We use a lot of fresh ingredients and we have that mindset. For us, a lot of times it’s easy for us to dissect a dish and make it vegan, make it vegetarian. We try to work with people like that because those are big concerns. When it comes to doing special things, we run a small menu. We like to change it more because we like to adapt to what we can find on the island because it makes a fresher product Everybody likes that better. We get a lot of Europeans that stay with us. What happens is in America, things change a lot. You will go to maybe 5 or 6 different restaurants on a trip. Europeans love going to a small resort like this and eating every meal there, breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and enjoy the downtime of relaxing. Not having to chase around all of these different restaurants and doing that.
It is nice to do that sometimes. We have nice restaurants on the island too, and it is fun to restaurant hop and go to a couple of different ones. People always come back to. We get a lot of Europeans and they’ll end up after a week eating with us, maybe twenty meals there between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. My chef, what he’ll do is that when he sees them doing that, he’ll come out to the table and ask them what they’ll like, “I couldn’t get a lot of snappers, but I got one big snapper. Can I roast that whole for you with some fennel and bring it out here to you guys and make you a beautiful paella?” He’ll make some stuff that’s not on the menu for them and they love it. He loves it too because it gives them a chance to cook something different.
Our producer Lauren said she was reading about philosophy. It’s like for our hook to the table for seafood. For someone to call themselves a farm-to-table restaurant, are there requirements that need to be met to claim that title?
There aren’t, unfortunately. I’m not into making more requirements for us all, but at the end of the day, you can taste for people that are doing it. Sometimes people are seeking to be farm-to-table. They’re less so than others. I seek to do it in The Bahamas, but naturally, it’s harder to do in The Bahamas. We are striving to do that, to be more farm-to-table. I’m lucky to have that property at the Cayman Islands to have my own gardener. I have my own organic farm. I have to have my own fishing boats. At that property, we don’t serve any fish that we didn’t catch, which is an amazing feature. I’d like to get to that point in The Bahamas where I can do that too. What we look at doing is we know that makes it special, a spiny lobster that came in that day. You split those open, you put them on the grill and then you make a beautiful butter sauce to go on top of that and roast them on the grill.
We’ve got these beautiful, green papayas that we shred and we do it like Thai style with some peanuts, local goat peppers, beautiful local limes and cilantro. You make this beautiful green papaya salad that you stuff in the head and make nice local rice with that. We make coconut rice and beans that you’d find that’s very traditional on the island. There’s a local chicken, which you’ve probably had if you go to The Bahamas, which is locals stake chicken wings, and they just boil it with hot peppers and spices. They’ll use island spices like a little bit of cinnamon in it, all spice in there like garlic.
I remember that. It’s almost liked a jerk from Jamaica, but Bahamian style.
It’s Bahamian style in a broth. You eat that and you’re like, “Those are great flavors.” We’ll take the idea of that dish. There’s a lot of people who do like to go into a little shack and sit in there and eating the chicken wings with the bones on them. It’s a little bit more rustic, but for some guests that don’t want to eat that, we’ll make beautiful chicken stock with all those flavors. We will take all the meat off the bone for you and we will make a version of that dish that people will love. Another dish that’s great that you have to have when you’re there, and it’s an interesting thing because everybody knows conch fritters, but what makes conch fritter batter than others? I’m going to tell you what does now. A lot of people don’t know this.
What I remember about a conch fritter and the best conference I’ve ever had, whereas a kid, we’d go to Nassau. We’d stand a beautiful resort in Nassau on the beach. I would remember walking down the beach with my dad and my dad would be like, “That’s where we’re going for the conch fritters.” He wouldn’t go to the resort for it. He would walk up the beach to a little shack. At that shack, you’d have these old local ladies and they had cast iron pans and they would be shallow pan-frying conch fritters. You would eat those and I was blown away.
We used to have the same thing with conch burgers. Do you remember those? They’ll make hamburgers but out of conch. It’s good.
[bctt tweet=”The islands of the Outer Bahamas give you a more quite, rural experience that is in stark contrast with the bustle of Nassau.” via=”no”]
The key to that is what happens when you make a conch fritter is a ton of conch. It’s a little bit of peppers and a little bit of onion. Sometimes you put some spicy pepper in there and then some of the old traditions, they would take a little tomato paste and put in there for color. Then they would put a little bit of Bisquick because it has flour and baking powder in there. You put a little bit to hold it together, but it wouldn’t hold it together. If you took that conch fritter batter and you put it in a deep fryer, the fritter would fall apart in there and you wouldn’t be able to make this conch fritter.
What happens in restaurants is that they want to cook everything in the deep fryer because it’s easier for the cooks. They make this batter. They make the conch fritter and they put too much flour in there. What happens when you get that conch fritter, it ends up being very bready. If you get a conch fritter, that’s very bready. It’s almost like fried bread fritter. It’s more like a hushpuppy. That’s a lot of what you get in a lot of the resorts and all of that. What you want to look for when you’re going around The Bahamas is you want to see how they’re cooking them. If they’re cooking them in a cast iron pan with shallow fry, and you put a dollop of that barely brought together conch fritter, that’s the best. That’s what we try to do in the restaurant. We keep a cast iron pan there, and we’ll cook conch fritters the old school way. It makes all the difference in the world.
They’re relatively easy to make. Are there any other conch dishes that you would recommend? Any recipes that might be easy for our readers to do on themselves? Because I know you can get conch in pretty much any local grocery store.
You’re always going to get it frozen because they don’t bring fresh conch in the States. What you’re looking for when you buy conch is you’re looking for Bahamian conch. You’ll see sometimes they’ll say in Turks and Caicos, which is a Southern Bahamas, or you’ll see from Nassau or Freeport. They’ll come out of those areas. It’s usually come clean, frozen in a block like you get frozen shrimp. You can just ask your local fishmonger. He might have to order it for you, but you’ll get it in a block fashion cooked cleaned in water. There’ll be raw. Once you get that conch out, you want to cut it super thin. Slice it thin and then dice it up from there.
Don’t slice it in big thick chunks. With that, you marinate that in lime juice and a little salt and put that in a stainless-steel bowl. Then you would cut up tomato and hot onion. You can use onion and hot pepper, like a jalapeno. Local peppers would be goat pepper. You could use a habanero pepper if you wanted to, or Scotch bonnet if you could get your hands on that. In the islands, they use the juice of what they call sour orange or Valencia orange. That has the flavor of a lemon and an orange. What I would say, if you’re making this at home, use fresh-squeezed orange juice, use lemons and limes, and you’re going to make this broth. Use the tomato, dice it up and the salt. What happens is you get this beautiful juice. You need to let it marinate for at least an hour. Celery, tomato, onion, and hot peppers. That juice that comes out of the conch is so flavorful. You eat that with crackers or grilled bread. It’s the best.
Is the sour orange specific to The Bahamas if you want real authentic Bahamian conch ceviche?
If you have Bahamian ceviche, you want to look for what they call sour orange. These particular oranges are green. They’re the size of an orange. They have a very porous skin, but when you cut them open, you taste them, they’ll be sour and not sweet like an orange. They’ll be sweet and sour. You can replicate that by using half orange and half a lemon or lime. When you come to Harbor Island, one of the traditional things to do is you go to Queen Conch, which is a local joint that makes just conch fritters and conch salad. They serve you some local Kalik. Right off the boat, you go by there and get some of that. We make the same version at Blue Bar, which is our beach restaurant because you have to. The other thing about that is, it’s super healthy. I’ll go over there and I literally will spend three days of my trip over there just eating conch every day. It’s healthy as can be. You got high protein, you got vegetables. There’s no fat in it. It’s not that bad in cholesterol either so you’re good to go.
Dean, thank you. You’ve been incredible. We have something called our rapid-fire questions and these are questions that we gave to you ahead of time, just to let you think about them. We’re trying to give our readers a feel for people like you who are global travelers or have seen all different parts of the world. You said you’ve been to Italy, you’ve got restaurants all over the country. These are ideas for them to get ideas on bucket list items and things that you do when you travel. The first one is, have you ever completed anything on your bucket list? If so, what was it?
I have a big bucket list. As a traveler, I know you travel a ton. Even traveling to Europe as a kid, people say, “Are you going to get that travel bug?” Some people who don’t travel will tell you, “Travel now, you get it out of your system.” As you know, you never get it out of your system. It’s a travel bug and you want to go everywhere. I’ve done tons of stuff. A big bucket list thing for me, I’m a surfer too. I wanted to surf in Australia. Surfing on Bondi Beach was a big one for me. Shark diving into Tahiti was a big one for me too. I did that. To go into the fjords of Norway and eating the seafood there was a mind-blowing trip for me. I’ve got tons of them. One of the ones that I want to do is in The Bahamas, they have a spot where you snorkel through this 5-mile an hour current. The boat drops you off and then you do this snorkel trip. I want to do that when I’m in The Bahamas sometime. I haven’t been to Peru and that’s a bucket list for me too. Those are some of my bucket list items, for sure.
If you could live anywhere in the world for a year, where would it be?
I think Thailand and Vietnam because the food there is intriguing to me. I love spicy food. I love vegetables and they work a lot with fruits, vegetables and spices. It’s tropical. I love noodles. I love rice and I love the flavors of peppers. I love coconut. In the islands, we use a lot of coconuts, and in the Caribbean, we use a lot of similar flavors, but I think I can bring back a lot of knowledge to my restaurants from that.
If you could travel with someone infamous or famous, who would it be?
People ask that question me a lot because I do a lot of things. I always have trouble with that because there is not a celebrity that I think I’ve got to travel with this person. There are famous chefs that would be fun to travel with. A lot of times, I’ve gotten to travel with them. I’ve got to hang out with Anthony Bourdain back when he was alive in the Caymans and pick his brain on things.
You’ve already done it.
I was a big fan of Anthony growing up as a kid. I’ve been watching him on TV. I got a chance to cook with him a lot in the Caymans too during our Food and Wine Festival. As a celebrity bucket list, probably going dive in and swimming in the blue water with Jessica Alba would be a good one for me.
When packing for a trip, what is something that you pack that may surprise the readers?
I don’t know if it’s surprising, but I never leave without it and I freak out if I forgot it is my swimming goggles, because a lot of times I’m traveling for work and I love diving. I free dive a lot in the Cayman Islands and in The Bahamas. Sometimes when I’m down there, if I’m busy, I bring my mask, my fins and my snorkel because it takes up too much space. Sometimes if I’m going two days of travel with a backpack, I’ve got my goggles on and I’ll be sitting sometimes waiting for a little boat ferry that can take me over to an island to the restaurant. It’s 30 minutes late and I’ll slip in my board shorts, put my goggles on and dive down on the ledge right off the dock just to see what’s down there.
There’s usually a lot of good stuff right there.
There’s some good lobster right there.
Since we’re talking about The Bahamas, what has been your most memorable experience there?
There have been many memorable ones. Going to the Freeport with my dad and mom, walking down the beach and having a guy right off the beach with a bucket of conch making conch salad for you. That was my first Bahamian experience. He had all the vegetables on a cutting board there on a little wood. He had a wood table that he built a backpack out of it. It had straps on it, and when he was ready to leave, he’d put the straps on and walk away with his table. He had a 5-gallon bucket where he had his vegetables. He would have his tomatoes, celery, hot peppers, oranges and limes. He would have the conch that he dove for. Even in Pink Sands Resort, one of the big things for me was I got to give people that experience because it was so special for me. When I’m down there, we’ll do that too. The chefs will bring down for lunch. We’ll bring all that stuff down to the beach and people be having their rum punch down there or their fancy Goombay Smash. They can walk from their chair over to the little shack that we put on the beach there and make conch salad for them because I think it’s an unforgettable experience.
That’s nice that you brought that back from your personal history and brought it into the business.
I heard you reference a couple of times that Cayman Food and Wine Festival. What’s a must-go-to Food and Wine Festival that you’re aware of? What’s probably the best one to tell people about?
I do probably twenty Food and Wine Festivals a year, which is crazy on a schedule. My favorites are by far Cayman Cookout because there are our food and wine there in January and also The Hawaii Food and Wine. They are the top one and two for me.
What island is Hawaiian Food and Wine on?
They do a three-tier one. They do a two day one on the big island. They do a weekend one kicking up to the O’ahu. They do a weekend one on Maui, and then they do O’ahu for a week. What’s great about Cayman Cookout is that the boutiques are small. You get to meet the chefs. You can look at South Beach Food and Wine. The chefs will pop in, they pop out and they’re busy. One of the things we do in The Bahamas, and I think people should watch out. Look at our Pink Sands Resort Instagram, follow us on Facebook, or come to our website and look out for it. I’ve been doing a series of four chefs’ weekends.
[bctt tweet=”It is impossible to get the travel bug out of your system. ” via=”no”]
We don’t do it at that extensive of feel, but I do like a little chef’s weekend where I’ll bring in a guest chef and we’ll make cool local food using their twist. It’s a fun time. I’m going to probably work on Harbor Island as things get back. I’m going to work on doing hosting a little bit bigger festival. Maybe only because Harbor Island was so small and can’t support it, but a small festival. Maybe 8 to 10 guest chefs and winemakers. It would be fun.
Chef Dean Max, thanks so much for joining us. We look forward to seeing you at the Pink Sands Resort in The Bahamas on Harbor Island.
Thank you. It’s great to be here. I can’t wait to see you in The Bahamas.
How much energy Dean has? I’m excited to try that ceviche recipe. Thanks, Dean, for a wonderful interview, telling us about his experience and what to look for in The Bahamas.
He was great. He’s passionate and his excitement rubs off on you. You can’t help but just to say, “I want to get back on that plane. I want to get over to Harbor Island and go to the pink sand beaches.” If someone enjoys it that much, there’s got to be a reason for it.
Harbor Island is one of those you want to go to. It’s absolutely incredible. Let’s recap some of the bucket list things we heard about. I think one of them is running out the Pink Sands Resort. It’s only 28 rooms. That’d be incredible.
For me, that was the bucket list. That popped in. Rent the whole space out. You got the entire staff, the attention that you must get if you’re the only guests that are there. It’s going to be over the top.
That would be great for an executive retreat too like a senior team retreat, a family reunion, or a wedding, a surprise birthday party, an incentive program for your sales team. There are lots of different ways you could use that resort. It sounds incredible.
Let’s recap some of our bucket list things that we talked about on this with Dean’s blue hole, the big sinkhole that is absolutely amazing if you’re into scuba and snorkeling.
One of your favorites, and you can do this anywhere in The Bahamas, is checking out the phosphorescence on a moonless night.
You’ve got the Queen’s Baths in Eleuthera. You’ve got pigs on beaches that you can swim, hang out, and sunbathe with, which is awesome. Also, snorkeling. We’ve got the Andros Great Barrier Reef. You don’t have to go to Australia, but if you don’t have time to go to Australia, you got to check it out.
At Compass Cay Marina, you can swim with sharks and feed them. That’s a once in a lifetime experience. Put that on there. If you’re going to stuff that’s more local experiencing a Junkanoo, whether it’s the day after Christmas, which is the traditional day that Junkanoo has happened, but they now happen all the time. Junkanoo parade is one of those things that you can experience. One that we didn’t mention is to make sure that you have a Goombay Smash, which is the official drink of The Bahamas.
It’s a meal too. It’s a hearty drink. It’ll fill you up.
We talked about the local fish fries on each one of the islands. Each one has its own flair and its own traditions. Make sure you add that to your list. It’s one of the great traditions of The Bahamas.
Walk along the pink sand beaches of Harbor Beach. It’s gorgeous.
We talked about the seventeen-foot Atlas sculpture in Nassau is something that you can dive and swim around. It’s definitely a bucket list thing for me. It’s a beautiful country, the people are warm, friendly, nice and very hospitable. I will say that The Bahamas, as everybody knows over the last few years has been hit by Hurricane Dorian. They’re still recovering for that. Even though the beauty is still unmatched, a lot of the infrastructure were destroyed during that. If you would like to give to hurricane relief over The Bahamas, you can go to the official website, which is Bahamas.com/relief. There are all different types of vetted approved charities that you can donate to in honor of helping a wonderful country out that needs the help. Please consider donating to The Bahamas and their relief efforts. That’s still going on a few years later because of Hurricane Dorian.
We’d also like to thank the Bahamian tourism people for helping us with this show. We’d like to thank Dean Max. We wish him all the success in the world with his restaurants. A couple of other people on our team we’d like to thank. We have Lauren Campbell, who’s an amazing podcast producer, Andy Fernandez, who is our creative director.
Don’t forget Chris Jordan, our copywriter. She does a fantastic job for us as well.
On behalf of myself and Andy McNeill and our entire team, thank you very much. We look forward to seeing you next time. Safe travels.
- Chef Dean Max
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About Dean James Max
Chef Dean Max is the president of DJM restaurants, a company that specializes in restaurant concept development and ongoing management, and has been an established leader in the culinary world for many years now. He has celebrated the launch of numerous destination restaurants, starting in 1999 with his flagship, 3030 Ocean restaurant created in the Harbor Beach Resort in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. He quickly opened Latitude 41 in the Renaissance Columbus, Ohio and then the Brasserie in Grand Cayman, AMP 150 in Cleveland, Asador restaurant in the Dallas Renaissance, Parallel Post restaurant in Trumbull, Connecticut, his namesake restaurant, James Republic, in Long Beach California, and most recently revamped the food and beverage program at the legendary Pink Sands Resort in Harbor Island Bahamas. DJM has also worked on multiple short term projects like the multi-million dollar renovation of Cheeca Lodge Resort and Spa in Islamorada, the Renaissance Inner Harbor Baltimore, and the Singer Island Resort and Spa. Max’s latest adventure is a release of his new counter service concept called Cultivar Mexican Kitchen in December of 2015. His restaurants are all based around farm to table concepts and they are deeply involved in grass roots marketing programs that develop them as destination locations. Chef Max has a laundry list of accomplishments from multiple James Beard nominations for Best Chef, crowned King of American Seafood in 2010, wrote an amazing seafood cookbook in 2006 called “A Life by the Sea, and holds many restaurant accolades from multiple properties. In his spare time he is an avid beach volleyball player, surfer and fisherman.
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