On a Friday evening, as the sun sets over Grand Anse Beach in Grenada, the kitchen at the Flamboyant Hotel’s beachside restaurant is just starting to buzz.
Tonight, the menu created by special request includes chicken battered with Carib beer, baked ribs made with barbecue tamarind sauce, callaloo rice, and breadfruit pie. Even the fish cakes and calypso shrimp appetizers were distinctly requested — because celebrity chef Yvette Michelle LaCrette is home.
Near the oven you can almost taste the freshly ground cinnamon and nutmeg she is mixing to create her signature dessert: bread pudding with a crème anglaise sauce. Several dignitaries, including the Grenada Tourism Authority’s CEO and an advisor to the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, asked for it by name. “I was called even before I left New York City, to ensure it was on the menu,” LaCrette says with a smile.
LaCrette was handpicked to cater a private dinner party hosted by the Grenada Tourism Authority — a role she feels grateful for. “Each time I’m asked to do something for Grenada, I feel honoured,” she says. Amid a demanding schedule as personal chef to international supermodel Naomi Campbell and being at the helm of LaCrette’s Catering Company in New York — where she cooks for everyone from church groups and celebrities to UN ambassadors — whenever home calls, she answers. “If I’m going to represent Grenada and the wider Caribbean, I have to give it one hundred per cent,” she says.
Earlier that day, as we walk downtown towards the spice market in Grenada’s capital, St George’s, everyone knows who LaCrette is, and she stops to speak with each person along the way. “I don’t believe in passing anyone straight, especially all those who knew me when I was just Mich from River Road,” she says.
“Mich, yah reach home, look the star girl is home,” yells one man. “Why yah didn’t tell me you were coming. What’s the big event this time, Michelle?” asks Margaret Roberts, a spice market vendor who has known LaCrette since childhood.
LaCrette laughs. “Everyone at home calls me Mich or Michelle, my middle name,” she says, before responding to Roberts. “I just come in to cook for the ministers, and I had to come to the market for my spices,” she tells the vendor.
When LaCrette cooks, she uses only spices from Grenada, because “After all, this is the Spice Island,” she explains, referencing the island’s nickname. “The spices remain in her mind, and Grenada remains on her heart,” Margaret Roberts says. “She has never forgotten her roots.”
In addition to catering many high-profile events in Grenada, LaCrette has represented the island for several years at the Taste of the Caribbean event in Montreal, at the New York Times Travel Show, and as a competitor for Chef of the Year during the annual Caribbean Week New York programme. And beyond Grenada, many other Caribbean countries — including St Lucia, Guyana, and St Vincent and the Grenadines — regularly seek her out to represent the flavours of the region at United Nations events.
More broadly, since 2005 LaCrette has been the top choice of the Office for Commonwealth Permanent Missions to the United Nations to prepare meals for ambassadors representing fifty-three nations. It’s why she’s often referred to as “the Caribbean’s go-to chef.”
“That’s a title she earned,” says Michael Mitchell, who headed the Commonwealth Office to the United Nations for fourteen years. “One of the remarkable things, I think, about Michelle is that some of the same qualities that a good diplomat or a good ambassador has, she possesses. They are passion, persuasiveness, and perspective.”
LaCrette’s desire to cook and represent Grenada started at an early age, after years of watching and assisting her maternal grandmother — one of Grenada’s most sought-after cooks in the 1970s and 80s — prepare meals for the island’s national netball, cricket, and basketball teams, as well as high-profile social gatherings. “When I went to spend weekends with her, she always had a wedding or some huge event,” LaCrette remembers. “I would decorate cakes with her . . . She made the best deviled eggs. I learned to make my deviled eggs, cheese straws, patties, and so much more by age twelve or thirteen.”
After moving to the United States in her late teens, LaCrette enrolled at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York, to take her passion for cooking beyond Caribbean cuisine. “I already knew how to make West Indian food. I wanted to learn how to cook different cuisines. I wanted to do Italian food as well as I did West Indian food. It was about technique.”
LaCrette went on to work at several restaurants across New York City, including Italian eatery La Madre, Latin fusion restaurant Tamboril — where she was executive chef — and popular Jamaican restaurant Negril Village, where she was chef de cuisine.
So “the Caribbean’s go-to chef” can skilfully prepare just about any dish, from sada roti to sushi, pasta to paella. She has pleased the palates of countless celebrities, including Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Mick Jagger, Lenny Kravitz, and of course supermodel Naomi Campbell, whom she has worked for now for over fifteen years.
“She can cook anything,” says Campbell, “and what she can’t cook, she wants to learn how. She speaks through her food. All of my friends, whenever they’re coming over, ask, ‘Is Yvette going to cook?’ No matter who it is — Mick Jagger, Kate [Moss] or Kate’s daughter, it doesn’t matter — they all love her food. And they all want more!”
Campbell, who is of Jamaican heritage, wanted not only a chef who could cook authentic Caribbean meals, but someone who reminded her of family — whom she could feel comfortable having in her home. She found the perfect match with LaCrette. “Yvette is like family to me,” Campbell says. “She looks after me, and watches out for me — she helps me in many areas of my life. That’s why I am so grateful for her friendship and company.”
LaCrette also has great gratitude for Campbell, noting that the many opportunities she’s had to visit and cook with chefs in Italy, Turkey, and Greece, among other countries, are thanks to working with her. “I know personally that I would not have gone to those parts of the world if it wasn’t for Naomi.”
So what could be next for a chef who seems to have done it all already? Chef LaCrette wants to give back to Grenada, by opening a family entertainment complex. After that, she hopes to fulfil her longtime ambition of having a TV cooking show on the Food Network or on a travel channel, to allow her to showcase the culture of the Caribbean through food.
“I really believe that cooking is a gift. We all get gifts, and cooking is mine,” she says. “I combine and infuse everything I do with Caribbean flavour. Now I want to share it with even more people around the world. ”