Tablemanners: Book Review

>> Saturday 30 June 2012

Image reproduced from Tablemanners Cookbook ©

Antigua & Barbuda beat out front runners Italy, France & Germany to cop first place and the title of Best Design in the recently concluded prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook Awards in their nominated category! Writing that sentence and reading it aloud is such sweet pleasure!

Tablemanners: A Culinary Review of Hospitality in Antigua & Barbuda, by the husband and wife team of Gulliver Johnson & Janie Conley-Johnson, is a stunning book. Weighing a little over 7 1/2 pounds with an open breath of 34 inches, it is easy to see why this book won best design. The cover reeks of sophistication with the grey title delicately but emphatically placed halfway down the predominantly white cover. A pair of shiny-silver fork and knife placed to one side with words: Antigua Barbuda, separately, engraved on each handle, begs for you to turn the cover. A bold band of orange colour guides you where to turn.

On the inside of the book, the font and size of the text used makes for easy reading. The colour scheme of white, orange and grey is used deftly to border the pages, highlight the titles and emphasize the copy. The large areas of white background on each page give each photograph the room necessary to breathe. The whiteness also allows the bold, vibrant colours for which Caribbean cuisine is known, to really come through.

The outstanding design of the book is equally matched by the contents - the number of recipes, the features and overall scope of the food landscape in Antigua and Barbuda. The Conley & Johnson team along with their collaborators have put together a body of work that each country in the region should produce for itself. Granted that in several cases, one such book would not suffice, but rather a series of volumes. Tablemanners successfully offers itself as a guide, as a cookbook, and more importantly, it shows how the old meet the new (the food, the ingredients, the people). The authors point out that it is not a traditional cookbook and truth be told that not all cookbooks need to be traditional. Tablemanners elevates and celebrates what's local and seasonal. It embraces the influences of other worldly cuisines and it take us where no other Caribbean cookbook has before (at least none that I've read), into the world of pairing our food with wine! The straightforward and down-to-earth advice from the experts at Quin Farara & Co. Ltd., along with the wine suggestion for each recipe (appetizer, main course and dessert) takes the guesswork out of the hands of wine neophytes like myself.

Tablemanners contains 24 full-length articles that encompass profiles of chefs, like the one of Chef Verman Banhan, a Jamaica of African, Chinese and Indian heritage, a mix of heritages that is representative of many in this region. Chef Banhan or "Dezi" as he is known says, "I admire the culture of my grandmother and mother, but I don't hang on to their birthright which isn't mine; I'm Jamaican! I have a lot of Jamaican culture in me and I am every part a product of our country's motto (Jamaica) - out of many, one people." How telling is that comment and of the food we make and eat in the Caribbean.

While Chef Banhan's profile represents the new, there are profiles of those who have stood as the pillars of Caribbean cuisine, like Dame Gwendolyn Tonge (Auntie Gwen). For over 50 years, Auntie Gwen, as she is fondly known has been teaching people how to cook through her local cooking show on the national television station - Antigua Broadcasting Service (ABS). Bridging the gap, and with a nod to the future are the works of graduates and current students of the Antigua & Barbuda Hospitality Training Institute, all featured in Tablemanners.

Articles on the Spiny lobster, Susie's Hot Sauce and the twin-islands' famous Black Fruit Cake all find a place of honour in Tablemanners.

The book has 2 recipe sections with a total of 150 recipes. The first section features recipes from their annual Mango Pineapple Festival - a competition and festival organized annually since 2005 to showcase the bounty, beauty and diversity of the variety of mangoes grown in Antigua & Barbuda. They have varieties such as Edward, Irwin, Julie & Tommy Atkins. This festival is a true celebration of what's local and seasonal. It shows the many ways in which one can use mangoes - sauces, salads, salsas, vinaigrettes, cold soups, butters, desserts and of course drinks and cocktails.

The Tablemanners recipes are divided into 5 categories: appetizers and canapés, fish and seafood, poultry and meat, desserts and cocktails. The West Indian Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Herring and Tomatoes, Cassava-crusted Shrimp and the Soy Ginger Pork Sirloin with Tomato-raisin Chutney are among my favorites.

Image reproduced from Tablemanners Cookbook ©

The beverages in both recipe sections are sure to delight and please - the alcoholic and non-alcoholic ones. I particularly like Hurricane Julie - a blend of Julie mango puree, ginger, lime juice and syrup poured into a chilled glass drizzled with steaks of white and dark chocolate.

Image reproduced from Tablemanners Cookbook ©

The other main section of Tablemanners, simply titled: Information, features the profiles and a directory of the islands' restaurants and bars complete with contact information and web addresses. Profiles and directories of purveyors and specialist providers as well as agro processors are all in Tablemanners. The book truly lives up to its stated purpose of being a review and culinary guide of the food landscape of Antigua & Barbuda over the past several years.

Tablemanners is a coffee-table cookbook and guide that you and guests will enjoy over and over again. Mangoes are now in season so it's a perfect time to pick up a copy of this book and get cooking and drinking! It's a job well done! Congratulations Gulliver Johnson & Janie Conley-Johnson!

Julie Mango Cheesecake w/Cinnamon Roasted Pineapple & Mango Chutney
Image reproduced from Tablemanners Cookbook ©

Coconut-Steamed Red Snapper w/Mango Pineapple & local Provisions in Coconut Milk
Image reproduced from Tablemanners Cookbook ©

Title: Tablemanners: A Culinary Review of Hospitality in Antigua & Barbuda
Authors: Gulliver Johnson & Janie Conley-Johnson
Publishers: Leeward Consultants & Associates Ltd.
ISBN: 978-976-8212-69-6
Cost: US$120 (includes postage and packaging)
Order online: or
In Antigua & Barbuda: Best of Books, Royal Palm Court and EM Grimes Greame.

Authors, Design Artists, Photographers: Gulliver Johnson & Janie Conley-Johnson

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