It’s not often you get to eat dinner with a celebrity chef
Bermudians often pride themselves on their relatively cool demeanour around celebrities spotted on our shores.
There's no paparazzi lurking in the trees just to get a glimpse of a famous face or gang of scooters following behind them whenever they leave their hotel.
Still I'm willing to put a few dollars on it — that any passionate food lover and regular watcher of the Food Network Channel would find themselves at least a little bit star-struck when they're invited to sample the new menu at the raved about pop-up restaurant Samuelsson at HP — with none other than celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson himself.
That once-in-a-lifetime opportunity came about recently when this journalist joined with three other writers from here and overseas for the rare treat.
The evening started for me shortly after 7pm as I frantically rushed through the Fairmont Hamilton Princess lobby to get to the restaurant's quarters.
After taking a few minutes too long to get ready, I silently prayed the other dinner guests would also be running on ‘Bermuda time'. (Who wants to be the one standing Mr Samuelsson up for dinner?)
My prayers were answered: our meal didn't start until nearly 90 minutes later.
I use the time in between to slowly sip on an iced tea cocktail — a drink about three times the size of its normal counterparts.
It tastes eerily similar to traditional iced tea, but can catch up with you if you're not careful.
Then I spot him. Known for his role as a TV judge on Top Chef, Iron Chef America and Chopped, Mr Samuelsson was casually walking around his pop-up greeting patrons, signing copies of his book Yes, Chef and posing for photos.
He immediately comes across as being down-to-earth and seems fine with the extra attention, so I decide to introduce myself before the other writers arrive from a different part of the hotel.
Once dinner starts, the chef gets rid of the regular dining formalities and opts for a more family-style of eating.
He picks a host of items from the menu that we can pass around and share from the middle of the table.
And minutes later a host of small plates arrive ... my favourites being the sweet and savoury Cornbread Madeleine, paired with a delicious honey butter and tomato jam; a super-fresh Trout Roe Tostada that literally bursts in your mouth; and a perfectly spiced Jerk Pork Belly.
In between courses, the Ethiopia-born, Swedish chef shares his thoughts on the Island.
He genuinely seems interested in learning more about the country, culture — and most importantly its people.
That's perhaps why he takes several opportunities to leave the table and speak with restaurant patrons around him, even stopping to sign an autograph for a smiling little girl with mocha-hued skin who visits the table.
Once it's time to order the entrées, Mr Samuelsson admits that he always goes with the Catch of the Day. (On this particular evening it's a grilled black grouper with salsa verde and grilled lime.)
Myself and two others choose the mustard-crusted lamb duo — a flavourful rack of lamb, with a perfectly grilled slice of lamb on the side.
Still it's the side dishes that really take centre stage during the main meal.
Flavourful creamed spinach, no doubt the best I've ever had, is taken over the edge with a hint of coconut milk.
And I can't forget about the world's creamiest mashed potatoes, made with horseradish and chives, which one of my fellow diners described as ‘magic'.
Other favourites were the Parmesan herb fries, an upgrade from the regular fried potatoes; and a macaroni and cheese dish with jug-eared orecchiette pasta and a blend of creamy cheeses.
I stuff myself to the brim, not sure when I'm going to savour food this good again.
Then the desserts arrive. A selection of house-made ice creams and sorbets in the most tantalising of flavours.
There's a maple pecan ice cream that quickly gets gobbled up by the table and then my personal favourite, a white chocolate and raspberry ice cream blend, which can only be described as heavenly.
All of the desserts are frozen — except one — a rum cake topped with strawberry and ginger and then soaked in even more rum.
Mr Samuelsson said he wanted to give people cooler sweets to counteract the harsh summer heat on the Island.
Although he's been in and out from his seat for the majority of the night, the chef is there to help us finish the night off on a sweet note.
The table chats about luxury tourism and Mr Samuelsson tells about how he started cooking in a three Michelin star restaurant for the wealthiest one percent of the world.
But since his childhood the meaning of luxury has drastically changed, he said.
He used to dress up in his finest clothes to get a coach flight with his family, but these days he dresses in casual attire to sit in first class.
Mr Samuelsson tries to include me in on the conversation by asking my opinion on things.
I tell him that my most recent adventures involved backpacking in some of the least glamorous parts of the world.
By travelling more basically I've been able to immerse myself more with the people and the culture, I explained.
And to my surprise he seems to appreciate my differing view point.
But then just like that the night — with its delicious food and steady flow of conversation — is coming to an end.
The journalists gather for a group photo with the world renown chef — and in that moment I realise it wasn't just the out-of-this-world food, but also the humble host, that has won me over on that very special night at ‘Samuelsson at HP'.