Local Gem In St. Barth: Chef Maya Gurley

Maya The Queen Bee

Local legends don’t come more beloved than chef and restaurateur Maya Gurley. Her eponymous Creole dining terrace has been a St. Barth institution for over 25 years and the reason is as simple as her delicious dishes: dining at Maya’s feels like dining with family. Over the years, her mini-empire has extended to Maya’s to Go and a thriving catering business, but her infectious passion for the art of simple food remains unchanged. She embodies the unforced chic of the island in her white tablecloth terrace beneath on the shores of quiet Plage de Public and in the ease of her smile as she greets each guest on any given evening. It is in her establishments that you start to feel yourself truly falling in love with the island, tucking her food memories away as keepsakes to be recalled with future fervor. Such is the magic of Maya’s.

The chef (and food lover’s) St. Barth.

The island offers a variety of cuisine. I like Grain de Sel in Saline for Créole cuisine, L’Isola for Italian, Eden Rock for Jean George’s food and BazBar for sushi and live music. I like L’Esprit for French food and Eddy’s in Gustavia which is a local institution. I go to Le Select for a cheeseburger in paradise and Isle de France for lunch with my feet in the sand.

Start at the beginning.

I was born in Martinique and grew up in Guadeloupe and those islands both have wonderful produce. I come from a big family where everybody cooked. Our meals together were daily events.The family recipes are the foundation of my cuisine.

The cure for anything is salt water.

St. Barth is so beautiful that we try to take advantage of it whenever we can. I love Saline Beach – I go swimming there every morning! On Sundays, my husband Randy and I go sailing.

Carnaval and costumes, the colors of the island.

There’s nowhere else like it – there are so many unique elements. Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is landing here in that small plane! Carnaval (in March) has a costume parade through the streets of Gustavia – that’s always very special. The yachting regattas are always so much fun. The St. Barths Bucket has a fleet of the largest yachts go around the island for three days of regattas.

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Shopping the island.

I shop every day for food: AMC and JoJo Supermarché are my regulars and I love Le Ti Marché in Lorient on Fridays. My favorite boutiques on the island are Yumé (an interior design store in St Jean), Clic bookstore and gallerie in Gustavia, and Lili Belle clothing in St. Jean. Of course, I also love Hermes at Le Carré d’Or!

The recipe for a great party is a simple one.

Our tools for a great gathering are very basic: good food and good wine. A DJ who can read the crowd and deliver the music that fits them exactly makes a party even more fun. We try to create a casual chic ambiance – I always like to enhance what you’re already working with. St. Barth has so many beautiful spaces that it’s always fun to discover somewhere new.

This caterer knows best.

I like food that gets things going, the right kind of format and the right kind of spice. We produce a full menu for Maya’s To Go and for Maya’s Restaurant every single day – that’s a lot of recipes! It makes it relatively easy to find the produce and the elements to create the menu we need for an occasion. Everything we make is made for scratch and everything we make is only from the freshest produce we can find. We are in full production all the time so the provisions are always at hand.

Feature flavor.

I love exotic dishes. I don’t mean complicated recipes but those with lots of flavor. Drink recipes seem to come from the moment. Yesterday was warm in the evening so instead of an infusion of lemongrass after dinner we made the same infusion but as iced tea. It was light and delicious. I like gratiné with grapefruit and ginger after dinner at parties where people have been dancing, it’s refreshing and tart.

Eat, love, travel.

I love to travel! Italy: always. And all over the USA. France is beautiful as well as Brazil and Indonesia. And I never leave home without my husband.

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Photography of Maya Gurley Courtesy Of Jean Philippe Piter.

© Gather’s Local Gem interview with St. Barts restauranteur Maya Gurley.