A Seat at the Table with Luke Mathot: Leading Your Taste Buds Across Sandals and Beaches

When Luke Mathot travels, he explores with his car, his eyes, and most importantly, his taste buds. “I want the most immersive experience possible wherever I go,” Mathot says. This explains why he enjoys eating soup from paper cups in Jamaica and comparing buss up shut at roadside stands in the eastern Caribbean. It’s also why Mathot jumped at the opportunity to be at the culinary helm as Vice President of Food & Beverage Product Innovation for Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts.

We caught up with him between taste tests to find out what’s new, what’s coming, and the story behind the team innovating the food and beverage experience across Sandals Resorts and Beaches Resorts:

People ask me, “What is a food and beverage innovator?”

I’d never heard of it either until this position came up, and I’ve been around hospitality my entire life. My dad worked in hotels across North America & Europe and I’ve worked in four countries and major cities like London, Chicago, and Los Angeles. But with all this F&B background, I have never been involved in anything close to what we’re doing at Sandals and Beaches. It’s a responsibility I uphold alongside our incredible team of culinary disruptors. The combination of their talent, passion for local cuisine and our innate Caribbean influences are really bringing forward a locally charged experience that we are so proud of.

Fresh conch, the Bahamian national dish, takes center-stage at Sandals Royal Bahamian.

"We’re literally using food to tell the stories of each destination.”

Let me simplify what that means. In the Bahamas, we’ll prepare conch the way the best Bahamian chefs prepare it. In Grenada, we’ll lean into unique blends of island spices. In Jamaica, we’ve rethought the ideal methods to bring out the powerful taste of jerk. Travelers have been missing great island flavors because no one has ever done this type of research and development with F&B, until now.

How do I personally get my inspiration? Well, it all starts with a rental car when I’m in the Caribbean.

I’ll drive around and ask chefs and bartenders, “Where do you eat three days before payday?” The answers have helped me find bite-size fish called sprats and a jelly man near Ocho Rios. I love sampling oxtail, the smell of curry, and eating stew from roadside stands. We won’t serve oxtail from pots or pour it into paper cups, but we will challenge ourselves to elevate local dishes and drinks. Then we can build five-star concepts around them across Sandals and Beaches. Getting all of those local flavors and influences are the key to authentic innovation.

But wait… this all started with a cocktail at Sandals Royal Bahamian.

We were testing a mango margarita one day and decided to try it with a few drops of a local hot sauce. I know what you’re thinking, but the drink was so good that we put it on tap. We didn’t plan to do that, but now we can take what we learned and tap specific drinks at every resort so guests can be assured of a consistent taste that’s distinct to the island. That’s what our guests want, and we are keen to deliver.

A new selection of delectable drinks awaits guests at Sandals Royal Bahamian's Coconut Grove Bar, including the almost-too-pretty-to-drink Dragon in the Coconut, the colorful Strawberry Guava Frose, and the Mango Mai Tai.

## **Our team members are our biggest inspiration.** Think about it. We have thousands of food and beverage experts at Sandals and Beaches. Almost all of them are from the [Caribbean](http://www.sandals.com/all-inclusive/). They have grandmothers or family members with awesome recipes, secret ingredients, and unique cooking methods. My favorite days are when someone brings a dish from home. **We can experiment with it, on the spot, and come up with a new menu item that’s delicious, authentic, and unique.**

The other day we had one of those moments in Negril.

We were working on a dish called escalivada where you roast vegetables and wrap them together for a new Spanish concept we just launched at Sandals Negril called Brava. While the dish traditionally calls for eggplant, we decided to try charred pineapple instead. It elevated the entire dish to another level. The same kind of local knowledge led us to use callaloo in a spinach and artichoke dip and to transform crispy rice spicy tuna into smoked marlin & escoveitch on crispy bammy. We also found a technique to use butter beans instead of chickpeas in a hummus. We do that every day — blend creativity with cultural authenticity.

That’s the idea behind our “elevated gourmet takeaways.”

You know them by another name: food trucks. They make perfect sense at Sandals and Beaches. Guests often want to take something quick to the beach or to their private pool. So, we’ve introduced food trucks with local favorites like conch fritters at Sandals Royal Bahamian’s Coco Queen and Dutch beef croquettes at Sandals Royal Curaçao.

At the Coco Queen food truck at Sandals Royal Bahamian, locally-inspired tacos and conch fritters pair perfectly with the salty air and swaying palms.

We’re just getting started with the quick service restaurants.

There will be food trucks and little brick-and-mortar joints at every resort. I’m really excited about a new barbecue place called Sweetwood at Sandals Ochi Beach Club, where we’ve decided to use local ingredients, Texas BBQ techniques, and a wood that’s indigenous to Jamaica. It’s another way to bring the story of the island into the food, and we can’t wait for our guests to try it.

Sandals Dunn’s River is one of our most important innovation stories.

The resort is full of history and cultural significance, but how do you express that in a cup or on a plate? We came up with BLŪM, a specialty coffee shop to showcase the iconic Blue Mountains and its world-renowned coffee beans. Then we took it a step further. You’re enjoying a cup of Jamaican-grown coffee in the heart of St. Ann Parish … what should you eat with it? The answer: Sweet potato pudding and gizzada. Our culinary teams learned from their grandmas how to knock those desserts out of the park, and that’s exactly what they’re doing at BLŪM.

BLŪM—a Sandals first coffee experience—meticulously pairs flavorful desserts with authentic Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee for the perfect morning or afternoon pick-me-up.

We’re also taking guests out to eat, literally.

We call it “Island Inclusive” dining, where we invite Sandals Select Rewards Members and guests staying in top suites at Sandals Royal Curaçao and Sandals Royal Bahamian in Nassau into the community for lunch or dinner at a restaurant we’ve spent a lot of time researching (and tasting at) on the island. Our team will spend months investigating nearby restaurants to find owners who serve great food and represent the island well. One local restaurant in Curaçao, called Sal the Kitchen, cooks up these amazing local dishes in a building made of ocean material that extrudes salt. It’s an experience you’ll never forget. And trust me, all of our partner Island Inclusive restaurants are THAT good. Up next… Sandals Dunn’s River in Jamaica!

Mosacaña Bar & Kitchen in Willemstad, Curaçao - a local Caribbean / Latin fusion restaurant included as part of Sandals Resorts’ Island Inclusive Dining Program. Photo credit: MosaCaña Curaçao

One thing to remember though… every island is different.

Roti in Jamaica is different from roti in Barbados. The best fruit in St. Lucia is different from the best fruit in the Bahamas. We honor those differences. Rum is a great example. We created Dunn’s Rum Club at Sandals Dunn’s River so guests can pair Jamaican rums with oxtail sliders and jerk-chicken. But when we open Three Jewels, the rum bar at Sandals Saint Vincent and The Grenadines, we’ll elevate the region’s best libations even further with rums from the small distilleries in the Grenadines paired with music from a collection of vintage & modern vinyl’s spinning. We want to deliver unique experiences in every facet of the vacation, rum and entertainment included!

The Papa Doble cocktail - a masterful mix of maraschino cordial grapefruit juice and white rum, served at the new Dunn’s Rum Club at Sandals Dunn’s River.

What about showcasing the delicious healthy foods in the Caribbean?

Already on it! The Sandals Foundation helps farmers grow some of the world’s best organic produce across the Caribbean, and beyond using their fresh produce and local ingredients across our resorts every day, we’re introducing new concepts that make these ingredients the star of the show. At Beaches Negril, for example, we’re rolling out the Green Machine, where families can create bowls using fresh island ingredients as a healthy grab-and-go option and it’s excellent. Guests are seeking out more nutritional options and with the resources so bountiful around us, you can expect to see more smoothie stands, salad trucks, and Green Machines coming to more Sandals and Beaches Resorts soon.

Please don’t ask about my favorite dish… I can’t pick!

I love all the food at Sandals and Beaches like I love all my children. But … OK … whenever I arrive at Sandals Royal Bahamian, I head straight to Coco Queen for conch fritters and conch chowder (by the way, we’re introducing a takeaway item that combines chowder and fritters into a single handheld snack, and it’s amazing). In Jamaica, I used to stop along the road for jerk chicken, but now I go directly to the Jerk Shack that we’ve reimagined at Sandals Dunn’s River. I’m a harsh critic and can honestly say the jerk at Sandals and Beaches is among some of the best I’ve had. So if you haven’t tried it yet, add it to your list ASAP!

Imbued with the taste of the tropics, the Jerk Shack at Sandals Dunn’s River presents authentic Jamaican Jerk for guests to savor.

What’s the future culinary journey look like across Sandals and Beaches, you ask?

We’re swinging for the fences. There is so much inspiration all around us… We’ve only begun to dip a toe into the possibilities with Caribbean cuisine and we’re making conscious efforts to make it shine. What I can tell you is that we will not be slowing down… besides, of course, when we stop to try the newest curry goat stand off the road on our next culinary adventure.

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Robert Stephens

About Robert Stephens

A husband for 20+ years & father of daughters, Robert's priorities of family, community & brief stints as a butler, beach groomer, & crepe "chef" at Sandals shape his traveling & writing perspective.