Savoring Southern Caribbean Flavors: Chef Leeonney Bentick's Plant-Based Meals Blend Tradition and Health

Chef Leeonney Bentick’s Southern Caribbean-inspired plant-based meals showcase health and wellness that aren’t just kale salad and green juice.

Chef Leeonney Bentick

Photo Cred: Chef Leeonney Bentick

While longing for home, Chef Lee reimagines dishes from the islands of St. Vincent and the  Grenadines to cure waves of homesickness. On each plate, she presents nostalgic childhood memories from the countryside, serving guests a simple Saturday afternoon with a cool breeze from the islands. Her plant-focused menus combine her Southern Caribbean heritage and her passion for health and wellness, creating light, fresh, island-inspired dishes. 

Cooking is the way I stay close to home. I feel food has the power to do that, like you can taste something, and it immediately transports you to a specific place at a particular time. And I feel like whenever I feel that missing and that longing for home, and I prepare one of my favorite dishes, it instantly takes me back to sitting on my porch in the countryside. I got my feet propped up a glass of sorrel next to me, or maybe some fresh lime juice, and I was chowing down, feeling that cool country breeze.

Chef Lee was born into a family of restaurateurs – her parents both owned several restaurants in St. Vincent. Looking up to her mother, she saw her as a boss in kitchen spaces, inspiring her to share similar aspirations. Being exposed to the kitchen’s hustle, Chef Lee helped create recipes & menus and take inventory in the kitchen. She didn’t enter professional culinary work until she mirrored her mother in her day-to-day life.

Seeing my mother in the kitchen, just being a boss, inspired me without realizing it. I remember coming down to the restaurant; it would be the day she would restock. I'd have my little notepad and write the list of things she needs. And to this day, shopping in the supermarket is my favorite form of retail therapy. I absolutely love browsing. I love perusing the aisles of the supermarket.

Drawing upon the dishes of St. Vincent, Chef Lee naturally found that creating plant-based meals was synonymous with cooking from the island. Fresh ingredients are at the heart of Southern Caribbean cooking, presenting a bounty of fresh fruit and herbs. As lush, vibrant gardens cover every inch of the islands, her cooking pays homage to the land and the vibrant wealth it creates. 

She recalls memories of her mother in the kitchen, producing traditional callaloo soup, recalling the base of the soup thickened with coconut milk. Naturally plant-based, her childhood meals inspired her to continue sharing how healthy cooking can be cultural. During her journey to creating culinary space for plant-based meals, she found she was drawing upon her roots to create her meal plans – creating healthy and culturally fulfilling menus.

Savoring Southern Caribbean Flavors: Chef Leeonney Bentick's Plant-Based Meals Blend Tradition and Health

One of the things that motivate me is that my clients, who are Black families, are always seeking ways to eat healthier while still enjoying cultural foods. I feel like too many times, we feel as though healthy eating might not be for us, it's not attainable, or you should approach it using this cookie cutter, kale salad, green juice type away. But you can still enjoy the foods that raised you, the ingredients you absolutely love, and you can still enjoy those and be healthy.

Chef Lee experiments with her ancestral past and home by exploring new plant-based options while combining North American flavors with Southern Caribbean techniques. Challenged by finding North American substitutes for particular produce, she attempts to produce traditional flavors with a twist. Utilizing her green seasoning, a mix of pimento peppers, and tiki thyme in her dishes, Chef Lee speaks to the essence of Southern Caribbean cuisine. At the core of her cooking, the two ingredients instantly transport guests back to the islands: the pepper, bringing a distinct warm flavor alongside the thyme, providing a minty, herbaceous blends.  

My favorite recipe is peleau rice because it takes me back to slow weekends back home, where life is simple. It's easy to find the ingredients are just pantry staples, to make this amazingly flavorful and delightful dish that is filling and hearty. And I feel like that is what Vincentian food is in and of itself. Simple. Inspiring. Hearty.

Competing against homesickness, Chef Lee brings her nostalgia for the home to the table. Whether in the countryside eating peleau or a bowl of salt fish buljol on Carnival Tuesday, she stays close to home through food. By inviting guests to the table, she hopes to recreate what culturally healthy food looks like and showcase all the islands have to offer.

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