I had looked forward to enjoying a special outing to The Champs Hotel, Restaurant and Bar in Picard (near Portsmouth) Dominica to partake of their monthly Sunday Live Jazz Lunch for some time. Part of the appeal was The Champs perfect venue – set high on a hill overlooking pretty Prince Rupert Bay with the scenic Cabrits National Park and Fort Shirley in the distance and the expansive Ross University Medical School directly below.
The afternoon’s exceptional entertainment would be provided by none other than acclaimed singing sensation Dominican chanteuse Michele Henderson and her Band. And of course, the food! A delectable dinner menu was being prepared by American chef Eric Subin, who has definitely made a name for himself on Dominica.
My Canadian friend Nancy offered to drive, so I was able to put my feet up and enjoy the seaside sights on the hour plus drive up the west coast from Roseau to Picard. I had not been at The Champs for over a year, and I was excited to renew old acquaintances, revisit a lovely property and partake of some of the best food and music that Dominica has to offer!
When we arrived around 12:30 p.m., we were cheerily welcomed by Hans & Lise and directed to our table for two with a lush coconut palm tree-lined southerly view of the Picard area and the sparkling Caribbean Sea beyond it. As we sipped refreshments and perused the menu, Michele (pronounced Mi-kel) came over to say ‘hello’ and hugged me warmly. Although she was due to start her show at 1 p.m., we had a few moments to catch up on news and have a chuckle or two. Her spontaneous outburst of merriment was prompted when I produced a photo of her with me and Marilyn Smith as the singers in the Beau Bois Ensemble back in 2003! We reminisced and I gave her recent greetings from Marilyn, who now lives in Canada.
As well, I asked the Dominican singer about her latest international and local performances. Delightedly, she informed me that she was received extremely well at the recently opened Crescendo Jazz Lounge in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia by large crowds for three nights in a row. In Virgin Gorda (British Virgin Islands), she and the Band headlined an event called “Jazz on the Hill’ to great reviews. Her feature at Dominica’s annual Jazz ‘n Creole pleased the huge audience tremendously. Then she mentioned that she would be traveling to Sydney Australia in the near future to participate in a church event to raise funds for some social programs. As usual, she left me nothing short of impressed and she hadn’t even started to sing yet!
All of a sudden, it was 1 p.m.: time for Michele to start the show and for Nancy and me to make our lunch selections from the detailed menu. Our helpful server answered our questions about ingredients and dietary concerns. Nancy chose the tuna dish and I opted for a vegetarian Indian specialty. While we waited for the meals, we listened pleasurably to Michele on flute as she warmed up the diners for the afternoon’s entertainment. Her superb musicality was clearly evident in a funky Chick Corea rendition that had me tapping the
table to the beat.
Then our lunches arrived.
We gazed at them open-mouthed: yes, we were hungry and the huge plates were filled up with our appealing orders.
By now, the room was packed. Large contingents of faculty and students from Ross University Medical School were seated at long tables. Other Dominicans and expatriates filled all the remaining available space. I was thankful that I had made a reservation, as I could see that late-comers could be disappointed or at least have to wait for a while to eat!
We tried our best to finish everything on our plates. I felt badly about leaving a bit – but I had already enjoyed some smooth and mildly piquant hummus with pita bread as an appetizer, for which Chef Eric is famous. And there was no way I was going to pass up dessert. While we let our dinners digest, we leaned back in our chairs to take in the mellow sounds emanating from the front of the room. I was touched that Michele publicly acknowledged me from our earlier singing days. Then she belted out many well-known classical and contemporary jazz and jazzed-up favourites: ‘Favourite Things’ (Sound of Music); ‘Livin’ my Life Like It’s Golden’; ‘Give Me One Reason to Stay Here’;’The Beat Goes On’ (her own composition at my request!); some popular reggae tunes and many more over two enjoyable hours.
After that substantial meal, I knew what I wanted to satisfy my sweet tooth with only the slightest glance at the menu. I have previously tasted Chef Eric’s chocolate concoctions elsewhere so it is no surprise that the ‘dark chocolate cake’ was my choice. It was only one mouthful before I exclaimed to Nancy that it was the BEST CAKE EVER! It’s a good thing that I live a distance from Portsmouth or I might be found sneaking daily into the kitchen to ask for possible leftover slices!
However, I did savour it slowly, and endeavored to work off a few calories by hitting the dance floor with some of the ladies from Ross University. Wow! Can they move it! I also met
up with Orla, a faculty member who had me laughing and singing on the trails during Hike Fest. It was great to see her again – although at first we didn’t recognize each other without t-shirts, caps and boots!
Just after 3 p.m., the music wound down and we reluctantly dragged ourselves off of the dance floor. I still had some cake to finish and then it was time to go!
It was such a wonderful way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Chef Eric’s culinary creations, Michele’s magical musicianship, the warm hospitality of Hans and Lise and the fantastic atmosphere at The Champs guarantee that I will return for Sunday Live Jazz Lunch again very soon!