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FOOD SCENE: Island Flava

July 8, 2024

If you’re looking for a restaurant that evokes feelings of warm sunshine, beautiful beaches and, most importantly, delicious food, Island Flava on Dalhousie Street embodies this idea whole-heartedly with a menu derived from the awe-inspiring talents of Chef Lennox Antoine. Over the course of almost 20 years, Chef Antoine has fostered a renowned reputation for himself and his work across Ottawa with his daring blend of Canadian food and the culinary traditions of his home country.

Chef Antoine traces his roots back to the beautiful island of Grenada. Located near the southernmost point of the Caribbean, Grenada’s history of growing a wide variety of spices and incorporating them into their cuisine spans over two centuries. Today, it is commonly known to be a “culinary hotspot” and was voted the First Culinary Capital of the World by the World Food Travel Association in 2021. The country is also frequently mentioned by its apt nickname: “Spice Island.”

The chef became familiar with the practices and techniques associated with Grenadian cuisine from an early age, learning his trade from family members. “My family had a deep passion for cooking,” he recalls. “My grandmother was known as the chef of the community and my aunt was a cooking and culinary instructor.”

After arriving in Canada, he took to furthering his knowledge of the craft and working in several different restaurants throughout the nation’s capital, honing his skills and learning about the industry. Eventually, he made the decision to pursue the art of cooking on his own terms. “I decided it [was] time to take all that I [had] learnt and be creative with it,” he says, “and the only way I could have that freedom [was] to open my own restaurant.”

Island Flava officially opened its doors to the public on April 9, 2005, and Chef Antoine has been steadfast in his mission to provide Ottawa with delicious Grenadian cuisine ever since.

The Elegant, Hand-Prepared Beauty of Island Flava’s Menu

When it comes to preparing their menu, Chef Antoine and his team at Island Flava have always gone to great lengths to ensure the authenticity and quality of their menu items.

For starters, it should come as no surprise that all of Island Flava’s main courses feature an authentic blend of Grenadian spices, including nutmeg, turmeric, cloves, ginger and more. A sizable portion of Grenada’s population lays claim to Indian ancestry, which gives the island nation’s cuisine its own distinctive flair.

Jointly, many of the dishes on the menu incorporate curry spices in some manner, including goat, chicken, assorted vegetables and potatoes. Patrons can expect meat to be flame-grilled to perfection and served with a mouth-watering side of rice and peas, plantains and fresh salad. “We make our own sauces and seasonings to have the best authentic ‘flava,’” Chef Antoine proudly asserts.

Despite its relatively simple dishes, preparing Island Flava’s menu requires a certain degree of finesse that only Chef Antoine and his crew can muster to maintain the high standards they’ve kept over the past 18 years. For example, the Chef asserts that his roti shells, which he makes daily in-house, are “fully Dhalpuri,” meaning they are made with split peas.

“The temperature and the type of flour is very important in making a soft and tender roti shell.”

Also made daily and in-house by the chef himself are their delicious juices, which include their sorrel (or bissap) and mango juices, which are paired perfectly with any of their menu items. The Chef has also succeeded in making his menu as accessible as possible to those with food sensitivities while remaining true to the essence of Grenadian cuisine. “None of our products contain any MSG or nuts,” he states.

By far their most popular item, however, is a unique blend of Canadian and Grenadian cuisine that can’t be found anywhere else. “In 2008, right in the middle of the Recession, I was approached to partner up with a fellow chef,” he recalls. “So, I went by his food truck and had my very first poutine. I wanted it spicy, but he had no hot sauce. That was the moment the Jerk Chicken Poutine idea came to me.”

Today, the Jerk Chicken Poutine continues to be Island Flava’s most popular menu item, with the restaurant proudly branding itself as the “Home of Ottawa’s 1st Jerk Chicken Poutine.”

Moving On Up: Island Flava and its Success

Over the past 18 years, Chef Antoine and his restaurant have received a stunning amount of critical acclaim both locally and abroad. Readers of FACES Magazine have voted Island Flava as “Ottawa’s Favourite Caribbean Restaurant” seven times over: in 2014, from 2016-2020 and again in 2024. It was this local support that has allowed the restaurant to thrive even in the toughest of times. “During the pandemic,” the Chef remembers, “our customers came out and really gave us their full support and we were very grateful for that.”

Chef Antoine and his crew have had the great fortune of being able to cook for some highly esteemed people over the years. Notable customers of Island Flava have included Shemar Moore, the Wu-Tang Clan, Akon and even Rihanna! In fact, a quick scroll through Island Flava’s Instagram page reveals that the restaurant received a visit from Grenada’s Consulate General (Gerry Hopkin), Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Roxie McLeish-Hutchinson) and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Export Development (Hon. Joseph Andall) last year.

And while all of this may act as irrefutable proof of Island Flava’s culinary pedigree, the only way to truly experience the best of Grenadian cuisine is to pay Chef Antoine a visit and try his menu for yourself! Whether you decide to go for their widely renowned Jerk Chicken Poutine or anything else on the menu, you’re sure to feel as though you’re right on the sandy, sunny beaches of Grenada when enjoying a meal from this fantastic restaurant located right in the heart of Ottawa’s Original Downtown!