Executive Chef Grant Lynott’s Vision Behind Secret Bay’s New Zing Zing Restaurant
Hailing from the winelands of South Africa, Executive Chef Grant Lynott has taken the reins at Zing Zing restaurant, where he has since capitalised on his vision to fuse both food and nature amongst the fruitful rainforest encompassing Secret Bay. Drawing from his own creative expertise, his wife’s ecological experience and the bounty of Dominica’s land, Chef Grant and his local team draw together the day’s local offerings for an unrepeatable and exquisite tasting experience enjoyed by guests in the new Zing Zing restaurant. We sat down with Chef Grant to get a glimpse of his inspired vision for Zing Zing, why each and every ingredient is a unique gift and how he’s defining a new “modern” culinary scene on Dominica.
Most luxury resorts offer a similar approach to cuisine and the guest experience. How is your vision and execution at Secret Bay different?
Dominica isn’t like any place I have ever been; the rugged nature, the undeveloped supply chain and the sheer scale of the effort required to offer guests a real yet world-class experience is a challenge like no other. The inspiring part is the underbelly or forgotten culinary history of the island and the local ingredients here. Zing Zing is part food-lab and part restaurant that follows very few of the traditional rules that I was required to follow in the past. It’s far more personal than I would have initially anticipated and, because of that, it’s entirely unique. I am trying to define a cuisine, build recipes that acknowledge the past and train a crew of future game changers on the island.
The Zing Zing Restaurant experience you’ve designed includes more of a “trust the chef” tasting menu concept versus a set menu. What inspired this specifically and how are guests reacting to it?
The idea came about by listening to guests and understanding the nature of how my menus take shape. I get to know the guests here and through that I understand what they like and dislike. Armed with that, I adapt and tailor the menus accordingly and they as guests understand that it’s not just dinner, it’s a story with me. Dominica needs a way to communicate its cuisine so I try to be half tour guide and half chef.
We also understand there’s no wait staff, per se—that the kitchen staff caters to the needs of guests. How does that work?
It’s because we can’t and don’t want to be a “normal” restaurant. We want honesty. And who better than those who cooked and prepped your meal to tell you its story? Some meals consist of amazing “jungle ingredients” that took us hours to prepare and we want to make sure that we communicate that properly. Also, with wait staff comes a new flow of service. I want guests to feel that they popped into my tree house for dinner and a chat.
Talk about the relationship you have with your local team and how you work together.
I was out of my comfort zone in the first few weeks; I understood the challenge that I had laid ahead and, for me, support was key. With the help of local staff and their friends and family, we’re able to find and experiment with local ingredients that they all remember as kids and turn them into new ideas each day. My dream is to create a team of visionaries, which sounds intense, but through this I hope to inspire a new “modern” Dominican food scene that doesn’t exist today.
Can you tell us about some of the dishes you’ve prepared that were made directly off the land here at Secret Bay? What ingredients did you use?
I remember the first day I was handed some fresh Sorrel, a local flower of the hibiscus family. It was made into a juice for me by a local housekeeper when I arrived. I was confused by the amount of effort put into a simple juice, and the flavour was unlike anything I’d had before. One of the first dishes I made here consisted of a red snapper caught by our water sports coordinator and a “tiger’s milk” made with sorrel and fresh moringa leaves ripped from a tree on the way to work. Perfect and balanced and local within metres of the restaurants front door. Since then we have been fermenting, dehydrating and pickling wild flavours and adding them to the bounty that’s available from the ocean and the jungle around us. Simple but unique ingredients made into great tasting stories—that’s always the plan.
What challenges exist on a largely undeveloped island like Dominica when it comes to cuisine and what opportunities could come from these challenges?
The island has no infrastructure to support and supply hospitality in any “real” way, so most chefs I know would have been back home already because this is as much an expedition as it is a restaurant. If I want meat, I need to get out and find it. Eggs? I need to hustle a woman every week in the backstreets of town here. I might have vegetables one day, and not the next. And fish, well, it’s the catch of the day here. The list goes on. It’s hard going but it’s honest and it makes you appreciate the ingredient more because of the journey to get it. Sometimes for me that’s a simple onion, other times it’s a 60 lb swordfish.
Tell us about your wife’s expertise and how you collaborate on your culinary offerings.
When we met, we didn’t have the same mindset; I was in a creative rut and she was battling to find the next step. Early on, she took me to a small school garden that she looked after and their surplus was an issue, so my kitchen became the solution. Through this I really understood the value of a supply chain that focuses on nature and people rather than efficiency. And, as time went by, I started getting more and more involved and hands on. Fast forward a few years and now I actively try to adapt and align my menus with what nature had in mind and use everything, because if I wait three months for something, why would I waste a leaf? My wife is a force of nature and with her I have been able to excel because she’s often pushed me to go where others wouldn’t dare.