The good thing about living on an island with two governments is that they must have two Carnival seasons and it is that time again for the French side to begin their fete, which starts on February 4 and ends on March 1.

I know it still seems far away, but an early pre-Carnival event will be held on January 28 in the Galis Bay village, during which a St. Martin band will be chosen to participate in “Battle of the Bands III” – a Sound Master’s event scheduled for February 24. Participating islands include St. Kitts, Dominica, St. Croix, Anguilla and St. Martin. Those who can’t wait for the fete to begin can start marking their calendar for the Battle of the Bands III showdown.

The 2017 French side Carnival Village will have 12 booth-holders: five of them are regulars and the other seven are newcomers. The containers in Carnival Village will be painted in Carnival colours to make them more presentable for revellers. Other highlights to look forward to are the Individual Costume Competition on February 18 and the Calypso Show with local calypsonians on February 21.

The St. Martin Carnival committee, Festivités Carnavalesque de St. Martin (FCDSM), is working hard to get you excited about Carnival 2017 and will be hitting radio stations, social media and newspapers to get the word out. A Calypso show has not been held on the French side for at least 10 years, but this year’s Miss Pitchounette and Junior pageants will be held on February 12 in Carnival Village.

As far as the parades are concerned, eight troupes have already registered for the children’s parade and six for the adult parade. “Seven Wonders of the World” is the theme for the children’s parade. FCDSM encourages the districts that have never participated in Carnival, or those that are thinking about making a comeback, to consider entering a troupe as the troupes are a very important instrument of Carnival.

FCDSM understands that it is difficult on the French side to put together a troupe and that it takes a lot of funds; this is why it is urging businesses and companies to get into the Carnival spirit by contributing financially to the troupes and giving back to the community. The organization wants the population to support the parades and all the events – not just the shows in Carnival Village. The more revellers there are on the road, the more beautiful the parade looks.

Make it your business to go on social media and look for the schedule, because French St. Martin Carnival is almost here!

There seems to be a constant buzz surrounding the newly renovated Refuge Restaurant Lounge, and with good reason as the owners have spared no ingenuity to bring this new place to life. Between the parties, the atmosphere and the overall newness of the place, there seems to be much more in store for them. There has been a lot of chatter in Foodieverse about the restaurant, so much so that it was more a matter of when I would go rather than if I would. So, as it goes, I mentally opened up a button on my jeans and headed over to Sunset Beach. It is child-friendly, which was really convenient, because my nephew was with me. Thus, armed with an empty stomach and a five-year-old, I was ready to finally experience The Refuge and find out if it was worth the hype.

The first impression of a restaurant is always its décor and atmosphere. There was a noticeable difference as I walked from the brightly lit parking lot and stepped into the restaurant. From the moment you step into The Refuge, the lighting is softer and the ambiance consumes you as if to say, “Relax, we know what we’re doing.” I can’t decide if my favourite part was the falling water screen and pool combo, or being seated over the water – I’m a sucker for a view. Let us take a moment to appreciate the world wonder that is a restaurant on a cliff situated directly next to a world famous beach where planes land. Yes, it’s an experience worth having. If it’s your first time there and you or your little one is prone to being chilly, I suggest you dress warmly. We weren’t prepared and the staffers were kind enough to provide a sweater for my nephew when he mentioned he was cold.

The staffers, who I am now obsessed with, are incredibly attentive. There was a point in time that I had to look around to see if it was only me receiving this treatment, but they are generally very pleasant and observant with everyone. Looks of pleasure and wonderment were plastered on the faces of others as well, and it made me wonder if my passionfruit margarita was playing tricks on me. Have I mentioned their margaritas are the size of a small child, and if you so desire can be served in an entire pitcher with a straw.

The menu is short and concise with simple, but tasty options. I saw it and thought, “What diet”? The appetizers were easy enough to choose, because I was in the mood for seafood. The crispy calamari was my first choice, it’s a simple enough dish, but many chefs overthink it and get a rubbery mess and/or greasy batter. In addition to the calamari, I chose the seafood lollipops, for the name. They sounded interesting. There was barely any wait time for the appetizers, which is probably because the night was quiet, but it was appreciated. The calamari and lollipops were cooked perfectly. I looked for signs of too much grease or batter and found none; and the seafood was the right side of tender and the coconut curry sauce was the right balance of savoury and exotic. Time must be a moment taken to appreciate the presentation. The Refuge has an aversion to basic plating and it’s amazing. My lollipops came skewered into a wooden plank next to miniature versions of the Eiffel Tower and ceramic clogs.

After having the appetizers, I wasn’t certain what I wanted, so I sought answers from the chef, who suggested the Cowboy Rib Eye and the Farfalle Giuseppe Verde. Both dishes were ordered and I would usually have the steak, but I chose heads and ended up being the one with the Farfalle Giuseppe Verde. It is a combination of bowtie pasta, shrimp, cherry tomatoes, spinach, fresh basil garlic and extra virgin olive oil. Parmesan is optional, but you should take advantage of it. I was halfway in between mouthgasms with my shrimp dish when I had a bite of that oh-so-tender Rib Eye. There was another bite, then another, until my hand was shewed away.

There is a special place in the Great Beyond for chefs who pay such special attention to their side vegetables, which were grilled just enough to be cooked, but still retained their original crunch. Zucchini isn’t my favourite vegetable, but I would eat it every day if it’s coming from the kitchen at The Refuge. The things the chef does with sides are incredible. If there is anything you do try, make sure the mashed potato is one of them. Pesto mashed potato is a solid 10. As if I wasn’t hooked enough, dessert showed up. They recreated half a coconut using a lightly whipped coconut mousse with a genius chocolate shell and garnished the plate with a refreshing pineapple and guavaberry salad. I don’t know how I’ll get back to my regular life after this.

The Refuge

#2 Beacon Road, Maho

Phone: + 1 (721) 545-2084

Open: 6:00pm to 3:00am

Cuisine: Italian with a Caribbean flare

Price range: $$

Credit Cards, Cash

Reservations: Not necessary, but suggested

Ratings:

Staff friendliness: *****

Service speed: *****

Restaurant cleanliness: *****

Food quality: *****

Value for money: *****

Ambience: *****

David Beffort is the brainchild behind the recently-launched Friendly Flip Flops, the footwear that keeps a foot on each side of the island. The flip flops represent this lovely dual nation island and are distinctly designed with the left side being in the colours of the Dutch St. Maarten Flag and the right side in the colours of the French St. Martin flag.

The unique footwear and souvenir items were originally introduced at the St. Martin/St. Maarten Day ceremonies in French Quarter on November 11, 2016, and were transformed into reality last week when launched. Part proceeds from the footwear sales will go to associations working on behalf of the island’s youth under the campaign “Walking Forward Together.”

The flip flops are all the rage with the two airports on the island agreeing to create displays of the big flip flops, while French St. Martin Tourism Office plans to promote them on their travels to trade shows. Also, some 700 taxis will have a miniature pair of flip flops to hang from their rear view mirrors.

Who is David Beffort?

I am a creative and passionate person who loves life and is very curious. I am very curious about life. I think I look at life through the same eyes that children do. I don’t see labels and limits.

Education?

I did sports and study school. In the mornings, I attended regular school classes and then trained for dance – modern jazz and ballet – in the afternoons. I finished school with a letter of recommendation to attend Claude Bessy Opéra de Paris, which is France’s national secondary school. I obtained a Baccalaureate Mention – Assez-Bien.

How did you end up on this beautiful island?

I am originally from Chevreuse in Paris, France. My mother sent me here to St. Maarten to heal and live with my godfather after I was involved in a serious car accident. Dance was finished for me due to the accident. I was 19 when I came here in 1993. I didn't know what to expect. I do know, however, that within five minutes of stepping outside of the airport, that not only would I be healed, but that I was at home. The energy and spirit of St. Maarten captivated me immediately, as did its incredible beauty. But it was the people most of all who made me fall in love. This cosmopolitan melting pot effortlessly sustains people from different cultures, different religions and different backgrounds – all under the maternal watchfulness of the Caribbean. The community embraced me and I quickly came to realise why St. Maarten is called “The Friendly Island”. You have to look no further than the story of the Treaty of Concordia and the commitment of the French and Dutch to peacefully co-exist in order to capture the essence of the island.

What inspired the idea for The Friendly Flip Flop?

I realised how powerful it was to be able to stand on the border with a foot in both countries.

What is the concept behind Friendly Flip Flops?

It signifies walking forward together and is part of a fundraising initiative to benefit our youth. Everyone can support us by just liking us on Facebook_Walking Forward Together. Our campaign is: “Like us is a donation.”

Why should every resident and visitor to St. Maarten own a pair of Friendly Flip Flops?

They need flip flops. We all need flip flops; so it’s better to buy something that is a great souvenir and at the same time useful to the community. A pair of Friendly Flip Flops costs US $20 or €20 and is available in many stores and boutiques on both sides of the island. The sale points will be listed on our Facebook_Walking Forward Together.

What would you say to encourage youths with ideas like yours to pursue them?

I would encourage them to believe in themselves and to always persevere. I would have stopped doing so many things had I not stuck with them. Stay true to your dreams even if you are alone.

What else do you do?

I am an international marketing consultant.

Tell us something about yourself that no one else knows?

My friends call me Davidou.

Pet peeve and why?

Bad wine – Damn it!

Biggest fear?

That I might not be living life to its fullest.

Favourite quote?

Albert Einstein: “There are not great discoveries and advances, as long as there is an unhappy child on earth.”

Role models?

Everybody.

What’s your favourite type of music?

I like many different kinds of music such as Jazz, Motown and Classical, but if I had to take one CD with me to a desert island, it would definitely be reggae.

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and what would you serve?

I would invite Prince, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson. They have influenced anyone else I would have invited. I would ask them to take a vote and then I would prepare and serve whatever they came up with.

Ajay Rawtani, who goes by the deejay name Ajay Raw, will be heating things up at Big Fish Restaurant as he helps patrons to ring in 2017 this New Year’s Eve. Rawtani tells us more about himself and what patrons can expect from him on NYE.

Who is Ajay Rawtani?

I am someone who cannot be labelled. You might not see me coming, but when I do, I am a force to be reckoned with. I am a loyal, passionate, dedicated, patient, creative and kind person. While I am somewhat shy; I can adapt to different social settings and I’m also outgoing, but a homebody at the same time. Music is my heart; family is my soul.

Place of birth?

I was born in Pune, India, but I grew up in St. Maarten since I was six. I lived in the states for more than eight years and returned to St. Maarten in 2003. When someone asks, “Where you from?” I always answer, “I from here.”

Education?

I graduated from Stetson University in Deland, Florida. I majored in Computer Science with a minor in Business Management. My best friend, Ryan Gumbs, introduced me to computers early in my high school days. From then I knew that IT was something I wanted to do as a career.

How did you end up as a deejay?

Deejaying stemmed from the first time I ever walked into a nightclub. Back then, it was Studio 7. There was something about the sound, lighting and people letting themselves go dancing the night away that mesmerized me. The DJ was at the centre of it all. He took everyone on a journey for that night; without him, there was no party. Seemed like a pretty cool gig to me.

What sets you apart from other deejays?

I guess what sets most DJs apart is the music they choose to play. I personally do not care for pop music; I don't like to play it. I love being surprised by a chunky track that I have never heard before that just makes me move. Too often you go to a club and hear the same songs night after night after night. This is not me.

What is it about deejaying that you like?

Deejaying and my music release you from the stresses of everyday life; it’s exhilarating. I like that feeling that you get when you have the floor gyrating to your grooves or when someone comes up to you and says, “Dude, you rocked my night!”

How do you think you contribute to a better society as a deejay?

People go out to listen to music for different reasons. But when they enjoy the music, it moves them and takes them to a happy place. Getting people to a happy place – be it just by the bar or going crazy on the dance floor – as long as it moves you; I think it contributes to a better society.

What are some of the challenges you encounter?

The biggest challenge is club owners or managers, who sometimes want to dictate what you do or what you play. This gets in the way of creativity.

Who are your all-time favourite artistes?

Sasha and Digweed, Paul Oakenfold, Erick Morillo and Chus and Ceballos.

What do you like best about your job?

What I like about it is that this isn't a job for me. I can’t imagine doing this more than once a month. The late nights take a toll on you in many ways. My job is IT and management – deejaying is just my fun.

What can Big Fish patrons expect from your New Year’s Eve performance?

I just recently started having dinner at Big Fish and the owners and chef are great, and I love the venue itself. It’s got this Bagatelle (St. Barths and NY) feel to it and that super club vibe that is just screaming for a party. So I'm planning to bring it. The music will be that deep, chocolaty, funky, tribal house that will progress as the night does. I’ll be on from 9:00 to 2:00am.

Why should people choose your NYE performance over others’?

For me, NYE has always been about a fabulous big night doing something different than what I do the rest of the year. Why would you want to ring in the New Year at the same place you end up every weekend? This is why I am looking forward to Big Fish. Change!

If you could meet any deejay in the world, who would you want to meet and why?

I think it would be Erick Morillo. This guy puts on a hell of a show when he deejays and you can't help but rock out to his tribal funky grooves. He keeps the dance floor packed.

What message do you have for youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?

Study; get a degree, get job, then have fun deejaying. Deejaying can be very positive, but there are negatives like drugs and alcohol all around the scene. You need to be level-headed and not lose yourself in this industry. Be strong and just say no.

What else are you involved in?

Besides my IT career, I am on the esteemed boards of St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Social Economic Council SER. Both boards are active in shaping and advising on legislation put forth by government. St Maarten is in an economic slump and both organisations are now more important than ever and I do hope that government taps into these resources. The experience and expertise of the respective board members are very valuable.

Do you have any (other) special talents?

I am a major foodie. I love my mouth. I have been inspired by my mother, my aunt and many other tremendous chefs over the years to cook myself. I would like to think I can bang out some great meals. I have a thing for photography too.

Wine or beer?

Definitely wine. I love a good Bordeaux or Margaux. These days I love whites – Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, New Zealand Savignon Blacs.

Dream holiday venue?

London is one of my favourite cities, but anywhere in Europe really. I love the history, culture and the food.

Pet peeve?

Most drivers on St. Maarten roads, especially the ones who drive 10 miles per hour or those who rubber neck and slow traffic when there’s an accident.

Favourite quote?

Never marry someone you can live with; marry someone you can never live without.

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and what would you serve them?

Ajeet Nandwani, Vicky Chugani and Bob Marley – all taken from us way before their time. We would start with oysters and champagne, salmon carpaccio, then a juicy medium rare rib-eye steak with truffle mashed potatoes and a blue cheese and arugula salad then end with a grand marnier soufflé.

It’s that time when New Year’s resolutions come into play and everyone’s starting to think about how to lose that extra weight, make more money, or generally become a more organized version of themselves. This often doesn’t happen or takes some time for the results to be visible. If you’re interested in relatively fast results for little work, you might want to consider adding a data detox to your list of goals. Personal information is everywhere and doing a data detox helps to start a new year organized, secure and at ease with your computer files or internet activity.

 

Don’t feel uncomfortable, get tested!

 

Cancer is one of those topics that make people uncomfortable, including myself. Most of us know a cancer survivor, or sadly someone who did not survive this horrible disease. When I first heard of cervical cancer, it made me even more uncomfortable as a woman. Cervical cancer affects the cervix. This is the area at the neck of the uterus (womb) that fits into the upper part of the vagina, and acts as a muscular band keeping the developing baby inside the womb. This means that being treated for cervical cancer can affect your chances of having a child – something many of us want or dream about.

Traditional Kwanzaa Benne Cookies

Benne cookies are cookies that are typically served at the Kwanzaa celebration. Benne is an African Bantu word for sesame seeds. The Bantu people believe that sesame seeds bring good luck. African slaves brought the seeds with them from Africa to North America in the 17th Century. The cookies are flat with a nutty and sweet taste. Ask an adult to help you in the kitchen.

Ingredients

½ cup unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp baking soda

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 large egg, beaten

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup toasted sesame seeds

Method

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Line two baking pans with parchment paper (or grease the pans very well).

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large mixing bowl; until pale and fluffy.

Add the salt, baking soda, vanilla and egg and beat well.

Add the flour and fold in with a spoon until well mixed in.

Stir in the sesame seeds.

Using a tablespoon; drop the batter onto the baking sheets, making sure the cookies are spaced well apart.

Bake the cookies for 8 to 10 minutes. They will be golden brown when they are ready. Watch carefully that they do not burn.

Remove the cookies from the oven; let them cool for just a minute on the pan – any longer and they will stick. Place them on a wire rack to continue cooling before eating.

Store the cookies in an airtight container to keep them crisp.

Make a mini ‘snowman’

Have you ever wished you could play with snow? Well, how about making fake snow? You can use it to make a mini snowman and to create a snow scene for your toys. Ask an adult to help you.

Materials for snow

3 cups baking soda (approximately)

½ cup white hair conditioner (approximately)

Silver glitter (optional)

Materials for snowman

2 small twigs

1 cocktail stick

Orange marker

2 tiny pebbles

Ribbon or strip of material

Directions for snow

First, cover your table with newspaper.

Measure the baking soda into a large bowl.

Carefully add the hair conditioner.

Knead the mixture with your hands gathering it together and squeezing it with your fingers. The aim is to have fluffy snow that will hold together when you squeeze a ball in your hands.

If the mixture is too sticky and damp, you need to add more baking soda.

If the mixture is too stiff, you can loosen it up by gradually adding more hair conditioner.

When you are happy with the texture of the snow, pour it onto a large pan; and if you like, you can sprinkle glitter on top – it’s ready to play with.

For the snowman

Using your hands, make a ball of snow for the body.

Roll a smaller ball and stick it on top of the body for the head.

Make arms out of a couple of twigs.

Make the nose from the pointy end of a cocktail stick, painted orange.

Use tiny pebbles to form the snowman’s eyes.

Tie a ribbon or piece of material around his neck for the scarf.

With a small idea that grew into a grand vision, Danny Ramchandani and Prime Distributors now sit at the top of the food pyramid for the northeast Caribbean. The business of distributing food products is a complex one, and it hasn’t been without its challenges, but through all the ups and downs across four decades, the loyalty of the employees and the clients have kept Prime Distributors growing.

Danny Ramchandani arrived on the island in 1972 and took a job as an electronics salesman. Within four years, that world had lost his interest and he was looking for something more challenging. Visiting with WEEKender in his Cole Bay office, he recalls, “It wasn’t exciting anymore, I couldn’t see myself continuing with it.”

It was during those four years that he travelled quite a bit. Whenever he was at Princess Juliana International Airport, he couldn’t help but notice that lots of tourists coming to the island would bring their own food. “They would bring in enough food for two weeks and stay at the Time Share. I also noticed that the supermarkets on the island were offering basics like sugar and rice but with big mark-ups; I thought I could do better.”

He started with a small warehouse – just 1,000 square feet – on Pondfill road. “There were mega distributors then, we were the smallest; but we were an instant success. Every year for the first five years, we had to move to a bigger warehouse. And within two years, the big companies were asking us to be their distributor.” By 1981, the business was well established, with a 30,000 square foot warehouse called Rams, located where Kooyman is now. This was the about the time that the customers asked for more fresh produce as well as frozen goods.

“We saw the need to diversify, so we built big freezers and coolers. That’s when we opened Prime Distributors just as a small warehouse in Cay Hill at first, and we also began to get into retail sales.” Business was booming, and then came Hurricane Luis in 1995. “We totally lost our whole business, between the hurricane and the looting, it was 100% write-off. We had never anticipated being completely wiped out like that, so we were very under-insured.”

It was a huge challenge to restart, but the employees were determined and encouraging. The family behind the business, including early shareholder “Mr. B. Ramchandani”, never wavered in their confidence that things would get better. The banks and suppliers also gave support. “It’s thanks to all of them that we were able to come back – but they stuck with us because of our 20-year track record and the good will we had earned.”

Ramchandani emphasized, “Even in that environment after Hurricane Luis, we never let a single employee go; we kept them all on and the business continued. We worked out of shipping containers in the heat for a full year.” Two years after that, the business was back to full throttle. By December 1997, they had opened the first state of the art, fully modern supermarket on the island. It was the new Rams, rebuilt in the same location that had been ripped from its foundation during the hurricane. And once again, they had instant success on their hands.

Ramchandani explained that the food business in the Caribbean is not a simple endeavour. There are no statistics to keep track of who brings in what, and all their orders are made about six months in advance. “There is no crystal ball,” he said. “Everything is imported, and there is importation occurring on the French side as well as the Dutch side, it’s very complicated. It’s both art and science. You sometimes have to make an order based on a combination of intuition and past experience.” He noted that since he grew the business himself, he has developed a sense of when to order and what to order, as well as how much. “It’s easy to overextend; you have to control the monster, and not let the monster control you.”

By the year 2001, things were progressing well and they were expanding again, that is, until several setbacks came along. In late August, there was a big fire that gutted the Cole Bay facility. Shortly after that, the company’s long-time shareholder and supporter “Mr. B.” passed away. Then came the 9-11 attacks on New York City and Washington D.C. “The island was once again dead,” said Ramchandani. “We had to operate our wholesale division out of containers for about six months.”

It was a difficult time for the entire island, tourism dropped to almost zero, and many companies had to find a way to adapt just to survive. That climate likely led to Prime’s competitor, Food Center, going out of business – an event which turned the tide for Ramchandani’s business concerns, as it allowed them to acquire the Food Center warehouse in Cole Bay. Now the company is at the pinnacle of distribution for food and related products for the entire region, importing from around the globe, supplying our island’s needs and sending palettes of products out to surrounding islands.

“The reason we are successful,” says Ramchandani, “is that we started from scratch and learned our lessons along the way. We know how to reduce excesses and minimize spoilage. We have long-term relationships with our clients and we appreciate our employees. We’ve been growing and we are getting more creative. I have to offer sincere thanks to all our dedicated employees and especially our dynamic management team. After four decades and all the ups and downs, we still continue to thrive and find ways to solve problems by working together.” That is the Prime Distributors philosophy in a nutshell.

For Prime Distributors’ perseverance, tenacity, respectful attitude, and dedication to excellence, the island of St. Maarten owes much to this company that holds an integral position in all our lives.

When it comes to managing people, processes, logistics and products, look no further than the expert team at the helm of Prime Distributors to see how it’s done. “The key”, says senior manager Sunil Bulchandani, “is passion.”

Bulchandani has worked for Prime Distributors for 16 years, having come right out of university where he earned degrees in commerce and business management. “I am here for so many years now, but I still feel passion for the work. Every day is something new. I always look forward to coming to work.”

We have to keep up with the changing times, Bulchandani told WEEKeneder. Whether it’s regarding staffing, marketing or shipping and logistics, there are always challenges popping up that require creative solutions. Echoing that sentiment is senior sales manager Umesh Gursahani: “This is a real milestone for any company; to have succeeded for 40 years shows the strength and the flexibility we have.”

Gursahani manages the overseas department, the frozen and chilled goods departments, and food service to hotels and restaurants, among other things. He makes connections with clients in Anguilla, Saba, St. Eustatius, as well as Montserrat, St. Barths, Dominica, Antigua and even Trinidad. “Wherever we have good shipping lines, we can send orders, either weekly or monthly, as required. We supply cases of products on pallets, shrink wrap them securely and send them via the port.”

The client list includes hotels, restaurants and individuals. It’s something Gurashani has been doing for more than 20 years. “I started in 1988; back then, I did the accounting,” he shared. “Then I moved to operations for a short time.” Now he is involved directly in the exporting of products out to the surrounding islands. “Products come in from all over, especially North America, Europe, Asia, South America and even Australia and New Zealand; then we take orders to send out to customers in the other islands. One time we had a request to ship some products to New Zealand, and I had to advise the gentleman that we were a long way from there, perhaps he could find another distributor a bit closer!”

Both managers shared their appreciation for the company’s founder, Deepak ‘Danny’ Ramchandani. Bulchandani: “I will say it’s a great honour to be a part of such an empire and to work for Danny Ramchandani, who is very warm-hearted and always acknowledges all our efforts. It’s a great work environment.”

Photos: Sunil Bulchandani, senior management & Umesh Gursahani, overseas and food service manager.

 

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