An Enchanted Evening with Hubert De La Motte
The Mystical, Magical
Chef of St. Barts
One never knows what to expect on St. Barts.
The straight and narrow road you’re confidently driving along on
this little island in the French West Indies suddenly becomes a mad spiral
spinning down to an abrupt end at a beach tucked into a sheltered cove.
The guy in the mini supermarket wearing espadrilles and a torn
t-shirt who asks you if a melon is ripe turns out to be a famous rock
star. The pink bungalow shut
up like an old wooden cupboard opens up into an elegant French boutique.
So why be surprised if the author of the horoscope column in the local
newspaper is also a renowned chef?
He is Hubert de la Motte,
the Brittany-born, long-haired, soft-spoken proprietor of the Hostellerie
des Trois Forces, a little inn set on the slope of Morne du Vitet
overlooking the sea. It was more than sixteen years ago that the stars
brought him to St. Barts and a lovely taxi driver named Ginette drove him
to view a hilly property. Never
one to ignore harbingers, he married the taxi driver, bought the site, and
built there his hotel of the three forces: the mind, the body, and the
spirit carefully paying heed to Feng Shui principles so that the uses of
space would harmonize with the spirit. Each of his gingerbread bungalows
he named for and decorated after a Zodiac sign – the Libra, for example,
is a study in deliberate and steady blues.
And he included in guest services such esoteric offerings as
astrological reading, acupuncture treatment, and past-life regression
reality-oriented Americans firmly grounded in the here and now, we were
more interested in Hubert’s culinary gifts which we heard much of during
our stay in St. Barts. And so
we arrived for dinner one enchanted evening when a full golden moon was
rising over the sea, Charles Aznavour music was playing in the background,
and starlight was reflecting in the swimming pool below the verandah that
emerges from the timbered restaurant and bar which Hubert built himself
-- along with the rest of his magical inn.
The powers of enchantment
were strong enough to make us surrender all gastronomic decisions to our
Prospero-like host. “Do you
like salad?” Hubert asked. “People think it’s sophisticated but it
is very simple.” There
summarily appeared a collection of fresh
greens from Guadeloupe dressed in a delicate vinagerette and a crusty,
rustic-style bread. “We
bake bread every day,” Hubert told us. “For me, it’s the first image
people will get. If the bread is not good, forget about the place.”
Then he disappeared inside
the kitchen at the restaurant’s rear to work his alchemy.
When he returned, it was with a deep bouillabaisse made with fish
caught in local waters, rich and fragrant with herbs, and a grilled
dolphin steak. To accompany
our dinner, Hubert selected a 1983 Haute Medoc from Bordeaux. Fruity and
not at all harsh, we thought it a great bargain at $20.
“This is a Cru Bourgeois,” Hubert said, “which means the
appellation on the other side of the wall from the Grand Cru. Such wines
are very well priced, and that is what I typically look for. My preference
is for old wines; they are better for the brain and the body.”
Hubert runs the entire
restaurant with only Ginette to help. “Five years ago I had two people
in the kitchen and two people in the dining room, and I was getting crazy,
” he told us. “The past three years I started to slow down. I prefer
to refuse people so I can wait on each table myself and get to know my
customers. We do a small seating of 16, 20 at the most. We are not looking
for volume; we are looking for the right people and to make the food for
them the way it should be made. The trick is to cook with love.
I give away all my recipes. You
can try to duplicate them but you must give enough love to the food in
order to achieve the result.”
The roots of Hubert’s
culinary gifts, we learn, lie in his Brittany childhood.
His mother cooked for a wealthy family who entertained in elaborate
fashion, and Hubert, the oldest of six children, would watch her in the
kitchen. “I was always interested in tasting things, seeing how the food
was prepared. The mother is always the former, and my mother was an
excellent cook,” he says.
“Brittany is devoted to
cuisine. The countryside along the coast produces good fish. In the
mainland, they make good pate, good charcuterie. Still Brittany is a place
where there is not much to do which is why so many Bretons are spread out
In 1976, as a very young
man, Hubert picked grapes in a Beaujolais vineyard and observed the entire
wine-making process. “To be in the food business, you have to know how
they do the wine,” he says. Three
years later, having trained at Michelin-starred restaurants, he followed
the path of many Bretons and came to New York. “As I did not have a
green card, I had to get work through an agent. Each day I would wait in a
room. The door would open and
the agent would say, ‘I need a waiter, I need a dishwasher, I need a
bartender.’ To avoid immigration, I moved from job to job to job. I was
afraid to stay in one place. In this way, I found myself in the kitchen of
many a New York restaurant.”
Subsequently, Hubert was
steward on a large pleasure cruiser before deciding to settle in St. Barts.
It was a homecoming of sorts as the native population is made up of
descendants of Breton fishermen and farmers who emigrated to the island in
the seventeenth century.
In the sixteen years he has
been on St. Barts, Hubert de la Motte has earned an international
reputation as a master chef and was named Chevalier de la Marmite d’Or,
a prestigious gastronomic academy founded in 1557. Last June he was the recipient of the award of highest grade
at the Loire Valley annual convention of culinary arts which designated
him Chef of the District of the Caribbean and put him in charge of the
cuisine of the entire French West Indies from French Guinea to St.
Maarten’s. “But St. Barts
is the capital of French cuisine in the Caribbean,” he maintains. “And
the influence from Brittany here is very great. With my hotel, I try to
create a small piece of Brittany in St. Barts.”
All this personal history
makes for a perfectly plausible and predictable story.
But how to explain the other side of Hubert de la Motte? From
whence comes the magic? Hubert
says he was originally a student of landscape design but was disappointed
to learn no job awaited him at the end of his schooling. Around the same
time, he became interested in astrology. “Whenever I mentioned it,” he
told us, “those same people who were pushing me to study landscaping
said ‘You’re crazy.’ Their reaction made me feel I should go in the
direction of astrology. You know people from Brittany are very stubborn.
“I became a channel and
found a spiritual teacher to follow. I believe it is possible to receive the third eye, become
clairvoyant. When I started
to build this place, I decided to combine the food, the accommodations,
and the astrology. It’s a way to greet people, to talk with them.”
Hubert describes a typical
scene at his hotel: “A group of people arrive around 11 in the morning,
the women all in string bikinis. They sit around the bar, have cocktails,
champagne. Then they get busy around the pool while we make a big table
for them. I display the menu, offer the specials. They are still swimming,
taking the sun, drinking champagne. When the food is ready, I ask them to
come up. By now they are a little smashed.
They have their lunch, and afterwards go on the lounges and take a
nap. Around 3 o’clock, a number of them will come with me to my special
room where I do a horoscope reading for them. Then they have their coffee,
and they leave. Some of them are very famous people.
They sleep on yachts or in private villas.
When they come here, they are totally private.
“Dining can be a magical
experience; it can change people,” he adds. “One day I had a group
here who became very frightened because there was a hurricane warning.
I made them a delicious meal with a fine wine.
Suddenly, they were no longer afraid.
People say the mood of this place is New Age, but the food is
classical. I’m still crazy enough to think people want classical French
As we finish our coffee, our
amiable host tells us, “People are always afraid of magic, but we do
magic all the time.” He points to the great stone archway at the
entrance to the hotel property that we passed under when we entered his
domain some hours before. “I
visualized it, then I created it, stone by stone. The stones told me where
they want to go. That is a
kind of magic.” We’re
beginning to believe him. Maybe
we’re should have our palms read, we’re thinking, or try to discover a
past life, or at least find out how to re-live this enchanted evening.
But the taxi arrives, the hour is late, and so reluctantly we make
our farewells to our gentle host with promises to return again.
back home in the clear rational light of a New England afternoon, it all
seems a dream: a little inn on the top of a hill, a full moon in a starry
sky, a mystical innkeeper/chef. “If you love to do something, it is not
work,” he had said. Also
“Food is love.” Somehow,
Hostellerie des Trois Forces
Vitet 97133 Saint-Barthelemy
SWI Caraibes Francaises
Phone: (0) 590 27 61 25; Fax: (0) 590 27 81 38
Photos by Harvey Frommer
About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband
team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional
scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories
It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in
America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in
Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.
They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining
as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United
States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
about these authors.
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This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights