He’s known around Martinique as Chef Hot Pants, and for good reason. Guy Ferdinand can be found, most days, on the black sand beach in Carbet on the Caribbean island’s west coast, cooking up award-winning meals in his trademark outfit: chef whites on top, short-shorts on the bottom.
“You need good legs to pull it off,” he says.
The former airplane mechanic left a high-paying job in Paris to open Le Petibonum restaurant in his native Martinique five years ago. He was desperate to spend more time on the beach and less time on the tarmac.
At the time, Ferdinand had no chef training, but he did recognize a good business model and made two wise decisions. The first was to set up his restaurant on an isolated yet accessible beach away from all the Club Med tourists in the south. Here, the green hills of Le Morne Vert and the still-active volcano Mont Pelée form an impressive backdrop, while a brightly painted, rustic bar shack with a covered dining area makes for an authentic island vibe.
His second smart decision was to focus on simple, innovative French-Creole cuisine, made entirely with local ingredients.
For example, for his signature crayfish done two ways, the fish comes from André Mangatal, a professor-turned-farmer who runs La Miellerie du Morne Vert, a renowned honey farm in the lush hills of nearby Bellefontaine.
One of Ferdinand’s most popular main courses is curried pork Colombo. He explains that the pigs he buys from a nearby farm have had bananas incorporated into their diet in order to make the flesh taste sweeter.
Bananas, it should be said, are everywhere in Martinique. They are exported to Europe, via France, where they compete with Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte for market share. André Lahoussaye, a tour guide, explains that, because there’s not enough land to increase production, the focus is on higher-quality fruit. Those interested in learning more about this trade should stop in at the adorable Musée de la Banane in the eastern town of Ste-Marie. Visitors can walk through tropical groves and see over a dozen species of wild banana.
For dessert at Le Petibonum, one might assume the standard banana flambé would make an appearance — but then again, that would be too predictable. Instead, Ferdinand treats his diners to homemade clementine sorbet.
“The secret is to include some of the zest,” he says.
It’s important to use local products, Ferdinand says, not just for the freshness but because it supports the island’s economy. This is crucial, since Martinique is an official French département (meaning it is officially a region of France; it was upgraded from colony in the mid-1940s). As a result, trade with surrounding islands is a complicated procedure involving prohibitively high taxes.
The plus side, however, is that funding from France means the standard of living is exceptionally high, with top-notch schools and infrastructure.
This also means there are fewer tourists: English-speaking vacationers usually opt to vacation elsewhere in the Caribbean, either due to the language barrier (Martinicans speak French and Creole, but not many are fluent in English) or because the only direct flights here originate in Paris or Montreal.
Chef Hot Pants wants the island to separate and become an independent state, but chances are slim that this will happen anytime soon — 85% of the population recently voted to stay part of France.
In the meantime, he’s happy to ignore political realities and continue cooking on the beach with whatever he can find on Martinique’s nearly 400 square miles of arable land and extensive coastline.