Veganism has long been a lifestyle and diet on my radar, rooted in my environmentally conscious journey ever since high school. Even as a former vegetarian, the prospect of adopting a fully vegan lifestyle seemed almost impossible, especially while traveling where food options often feel limited. However, my reservations took a back seat when I received an invitation to experience celebrity vegan Chef Lauren Von Der Pool's residency at Jade Mountain in St. Lucia.
Chef Lauren Von Der Pool, a distinguished Le Cordon Bleu graduate, stands at the forefront of the culinary world with an impressive background. Having collaborated with notable chefs like Marcus Samuelsson and Wolfgang Puck, Chef Von Der Pool has left her mark on prestigious events, including The Oscars, The Grammys, BET Honors, and even the Met Gala “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” in 2022. Her career's pinnacle came in 2009 when Former First Lady Michelle Obama invited her to contribute to the obesity prevention campaign "Let’s Move." Knowing Chef Von Der Pool's accomplished history, coupled with her identity as a Black woman, eased my reservations about vegan dining at Jade Mountain.
Nestled in the serene haven of Saint Lucia, Jade Mountain became the backdrop for a vegan exploration that changed my mind about veganism forever. The resort's architectural marvel, seamlessly integrated into the mountainside, provided an uninterrupted connection with the lush jungle surroundings and stunning views of the iconic Pitons. Describing Jade Mountain as paradise might sound cliché, but those words ring undeniably true. The resort comprises 29 sanctuaries that offer a visual spectacle. These sanctuaries merge luxury with nature, featuring a distinctive missing wall that allows an uninterrupted connection with the jungle surroundings and stunning views of the Pitons, Saint Lucia's iconic landmarks.
Jade Mountain allure doesn’t end at its architectural beauty. The owners and staff fully value the culinary arts, inviting renowned chefs from around the world to curate custom-themed menus multiple times throughout the year, including Chef Von Der Pool. This commitment to culinary innovation ensures that guests experience an ever-evolving tapestry of flavors, elevating their culinary journey to new heights.
Throughout Chef Von Der Pool's time at Jade Mountain, she curated various rituals and dinners, commencing her stay with a cacao ceremony that was more like a spiritual cleanse. The transformative powers of the ancient cacao drink, combined with Chef Lauren’s breath work against the backdrop of Jade Mountain’s beaches, immediately set the stage for a clear mind and body to take in the rest of the experience.
Chef Lauren's first themed meal paid homage to the vibrant flavors of the Caribbean, aptly suited to our stunning location and her West Indian background. The menu featured many dishes like "Vegan Deviled Egg," a playful vegan twist on a classic featuring yukon gold potatoes, vegan mayo, sweet relish, and dried dill. She also served her signature "Maple Mustard Kale" with crispy onion rings, mango, avocado & mint, extra virgin coconut oil, a vibrant and refreshing salad with a crunchy kick. Then, there was the "Caribbean Ital Sip," a hearty stew blending pumpkin, caramelized corn, callaloo, plantain, and ume plum pickled onions, capturing the essence of Caribbean flavors.
The second themed meal continued the culinary journey with a diverse array of flavors, showcasing Chef Von Der Pool's creativity. The menu included the "Queen of Green Quinoa Salad" with wilted kale, fennel, arugula, apple, shaved radish, mango, bell peppers, coconut dressing, a refreshing and nutritious start. There was also the "Caribbean Corn Bisque," a velvety soup with mushrooms, crispy basil, and basil oil, offering a rich and comforting bowl of goodness. The satisfying main course was the "Crispy Breadfruit Bowl" featuring crispy "fish," braised greens, and a petite tomato and arugula salad, highlighting Caribbean flavors. Finally, the "Dragon Fruit Rose Funnel Cake" was a sweet finale with blue magic powdered sugar and mango coconut ice cream, delivering a delightful and visually stunning dessert.
Amidst the culinary treats, I had the privilege of interviewing Chef Lauren Von Der Pool, who shared profound insights that reshaped my perspective on veganism. She emphasized the diversity within the vegan community, stressing that "not all vegans are created equal."
Chef Von Der Pool debunked the misconception that all vegan food is inherently healthy, cautioning against processed options and the potential negative effects of a diet dominated by lab-grown or genetically modified foods. She emphasized the physiological benefits of a plant-based diet, contributing to a lighter and happier disposition.
When asked for tips about my vegan journey, she told me, "Identifying your big why and understanding that especially in regards to veganism or healthy eating, wholesome eating, the payoffs are massive because you're not only just healing your body, you're healing your environment.”
Chef Von Der Pool shared her intentional approach in the kitchen, focusing on the layers of flavors and the creative process. "I would say that it starts off with energy. While I’m cooking for you, I'm listening for what heart strings need to be pulled. I'm reaching back into your grandmother's cabinet for you, right? What can I offer you that you might be familiar with, but also unfamiliar with, right? How can I spark that interest in that? How could I have you clutch those pearls? I'm always looking for a pearl clutching moment.”
Her words reflected a spiritual experience, treating cooking as a ceremony. “In the kitchen, I'm listening. It's a spiritual experience. It's a ceremony, and that's how I treat it.”
She emphasized the importance of exploring, having fun, and tapping into different flavor profiles, encouraging a fearless approach to culinary experimentation. "I'm thinking of the layers of flavors, of how I can do it, how I can create, how I can surprise you with something as simple as a salad.”
Reflecting on her unique approach, Chef Lauren spoke about the energy she brings to her craft, emphasizing that her beauty goes beyond appearance. Her intention is to create memorable experiences, sparking interest and nostalgia through thoughtfully curated vegan dishes.
My journey into veganism at Jade Mountain with Chef Lauren Von Der Pool was more than a culinary adventure; it was a spiritual and transformative experience. The lush landscapes of Saint Lucia, the architectural marvel of Jade Mountain, and Chef Lauren's intentional approach to vegan cuisine combined to create an unforgettable exploration of a plant-based lifestyle. As Chef Lauren eloquently puts it, "All of those things are basically what goes into my je ne sais quoi," and indeed, the journey left me with a newfound appreciation for the artistry and joy of vegan living.