The Tastes of the Bahamas Served in a Ballsbridge Kitchen

A photo of Susan Elizabeth Maguire’s daughter Charlotte is tacked to the tiles of her kitchen in Ballsbridge.

In it, Charlotte’s eyes are closed, her hands gripped tightly around a wooden spoon, her face beaming, after the taste of the sloppy remains of brownie mixture.

It inspires Maguire’s cooking, she says. “She is just anticipating the taste of that brownie spoon.”

Maguire was born in the Bahamas. For years, she headed her own kitchen there, serving up Bahamian food and international cuisine.

“When I’m cooking and creating that’s how I want people to feel,” says Maguire. “What am I going to be tasting?”

There’s a hint of mischief in how Maguire approaches food, a desire to explore flavours, to mix culinary traditions on one plate.

Mango, pineapple and red chilli chutney? Lime and thyme in Irish soda bread? Rum cakes with fiery spice?

Welcome to Maguire’s Bahamian supper clubs.

À La Maguire

Since 2016, Maguire has been sharing the food of the Caribbean archipelago in her beautiful penthouse apartment in Ballsbridge.

Bahamian food is a lot like other Caribbean cuisines, she says. Jamaican food for example. But it’s often lighter. Less starchy.

“They’re very similar food,” says Maguire. Jamaica, Florida, France and the United Kingdom all have had influence on the food in the Bahamas, she says.

“We have boils for breakfast, chicken souse, with a signature bread which is called a Johnny cake,” says Maguire.

Boils are boiled fish, served with vegetables. Chicken souse is a light chicken soup. Johnny cake is a type of sweet bread.

In Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, Maguire worked as a chef – first in a small cafe and later in a much larger restaurant.

She developed a flair for putting what she describes as “twists” on Bahamian staples: “I wasn’t afraid to take risks with food.”

The Supper Club

When she moved to Ireland, Maguire missed working with food and was keen to get stuck in again. On the suggestion of a friend, she put together a supper club.

The concept is simple. People come to Maguire’s house, in small groups, bring their own wine, and Maguire gets cooking in the kitchen.

The table in Maguire’s home is laid out with bouquets of bright pink flowers running down the centre of the table, white ceramic plates in the shape of seashells marking people’s seats, with two golden candleholders outlined in the shape of a pineapple finishing the display off.

Supper starts with plantains. They’re easy to pick up on Moore Street, says Maguire. She slices them thinly, deep-fat fries them until crisp, and serves them in a wine glass alongside chutneys and dips.

“I have a pineapple chutney, which I make with tumeric, fresh ginger, chili,” says Maguire, leading the way to the kitchen, where pots and pans are on the hob, covered with tinfoil and lids.

She grabs a jar, opens it.

“Smell this,” she says.

There’s the sharp scent of ginger and the gentle fragrance of alcohol. It’s a chutney made from rum, raisins and ginger.

There’s others too. Like the mango, pineapple and chilli chutney that Maguire serves alongside a plate of jerk chicken for this particular solitary supper club.

The jerk chicken is served with coconut rice, and a red sauce of caramelized onions and tomatoes. It’s seasoned for 24 hours beforehand, says Maguire.

The chicken is moist, with a spicy sauce balanced with the refreshing sweetness of mango and pineapple chutney.

It’s also served with a side of Maguire’s own special twist on Irish soda bread, with an infusion of thyme and lime.

A keen runner, much of the inspiration for Maguire’s different recipes come from her daily jogs.

In this case, it was familial necessity. Soda bread is something she had to learn how to make for her Irish mother-in-law, she says, laughing.

“It’s lovely and really different,” says Paula Flanagan, a regular at Maguire’s supper club, drawn to it by the relaxing environment and the unusual combinations of flavours.

“I loved the dips,” says Flanagan. “She does a seafood dip so definitely it was new to me.”

Keva’s Foods

Besides the supper clubs, Maguire runs a food business called Keva’s Food & Rum Cake Company, selling online the chutneys and desserts that she sometimes serves at home.

The speciality, however, is her rum cake.

“It’s a sponge-based cake. It came from the idea of rum baba, which is a French cake but we don’t use yeast in it so it’s a lighter version of a rum baba,” says Maguire.

It’s baked with rum but “it’s the sauce that makes it”, says Maguire. “You have ginger, then you soak the cake in it and it infuses all the flavours in it. The citrus, the sponge, everything all marries together.”

Maguire puts ice cream with rum-soaked sultanas in a bowl, alongside a saucer with a slice of hot-chocolate rum cake. The fork cuts through the cake like through a cushiony cloud. It tastes light and chocolatey, but not so chocolatey that the spices don’t come through.

“It just makes people feel good,” says Maguire, laughing.

She dreams of opening her own restaurant one day. She already has the designs, “from the entrance to the outside, to the colours and how I want it to look inside”.

The restaurants she ran in the Bahamas always had fish tanks. That’s a necessity for any possible future endeavour.

“You never see restaurants with fish tanks anymore,” says Maguire, a touch of lament in her voice.

To book the Bahamian Supper Club, you can contact Maguire through Keva’s Food & Rum Company’s Facebook page.

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Author:

Sean Finnan: Sean Finnan is a freelance journalist. You can reach him at sfinnan@dublininquirer.com.

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