Dining on a Caribbean Island

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

World Class Chef Takes the Reins at The Meridian Club

The Meridian Club on Pine Cay is a unique destination in the Turks and Caicos Islands. With only 13 beachfront bungalows and some 30 homes, an unbelievable white-sand beach stretching for 2-miles and many features which are reminiscent of simpler times, the island guarantees an almost spiritual vacation. Eco-friendly infrastructure throughout the island means that there are no unnecessary buildings or wasted resources. But it also means that there is just one restaurant on the island…and so it had better be good!

Shane Coffey, Executive Chef

“It’s isolated, but it’s a good spot for me,” says Executive Chef and culinary wizard, Shane Coffey. For a man who has lived in the spotlight at some of the most popular restaurants in New York and Colorado, it may appear to some that he has turned his back on his rise to stardom as a celebrated chef in exchange for running a compact kitchen, on a secluded island, literally in the middle of nowhere.

But herein lies the difference. Shane doesn’t think he has given up all that much. “I’m really lucky! I love my job,” he confirms enthusiastically, “It’s the most challenging job I’ve ever had!”

Born in Ohio 44 years ago, Shane played college football, earned a degree in economics from the University of Cincinnati and began his career running a multi-million dollar technology company in the field of voice over fiber optics. Hardly the resume for an aspiring chef.

“I’d been working in restaurants and bars since I was 15 years old,” he explains when asked about the 180 degree shift in his interest. “After 7 years in technology I decided to go to culinary school,” he states.

An Adventurous Culinary Career

Shane graduated from the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont, and shortly after, in 2003, took over as Executive Chef at Alias on New York’s Lower East Side. “It was a turnaround exercise,” he describes with just a hint of pride in his voice, “we had some nights without a single cover when I first started. Within the time I was there we had lineups and had become immensely popular.”

On the tails of this successful venture, Shane suddenly picked up and left New York in 2007. “I saw an ad in Craigslist for a restaurant in Aspen, and pursued it,” he laughs. This spontaneous move proved to be another successful adventure for Shane, who landed the role as the Executive Chef at Lulu Wilson in Aspen. “We had 90 seats and did 250 to 300 covers a night!” And once again, Chef Coffey executed a brilliant turnaround by bringing to the table as much locally-sourced, organic and antibiotic free items as he could find. “It wasn’t as easy as shopping in New York where I could jump in a cab and shop at the farmer’s market in Union Square, but we were very selective about our ingredients and made sure we had a viable supply.”

In 2010, Shane made the move to Pine Cay. “When I heard about an opening at The Meridian Club, I was intrigued,” he explains. “I knew the pastry chef from culinary school and felt like I was ready for another change.”

Within a few months, Shane had accepted the position as Executive Chef on the isolated, 800-acre island in the string of cays and islets which make up the Turks and Caicos. “It was a challenge right from the get go. Meal planning became very difficult and the average grocery shop would take 4 hours assuming I had the order in the night before!” There is no local produce on Pine Cay and all ingredients except for fish have to be brought over by boat from Providenciales. “This was shopping on a whole different level than I had ever experienced.”

If you haven’t already gathered, Chef Coffey doesn’t shy away from challenges. He leaps into them feet first and embraces them tightly with intention and passion. He admits that this role at The Meridian Club is the most challenging he’s ever had, but it’s the challenges that continue to inspire him. “As long as I’m becoming a better chef, then I’m happy,” he says more seriously, “I am inspired by the inherent difficulties of practicing my craft on a deserted island. I am constantly inspired to see my kitchen staff develop the skills that I had taken for granted in New York and Colorado.”

Dining at The Meridian Club – A “Tasting” Sensation

Shane has changed the way people dine at The Meridian Club. As his kitchen team became more skilled and practiced, Shane experimented with his menu. “I can demand more from my team, and I can put out the quality of ingredients and flavors that our guests should expect from our restaurant,” he explains. “It all takes time and patience and it is immeasurably rewarding.”

Guests at The Meridian Club will enjoy a five-course tasting menu about 5 days of the week when dinner takes place in the dining room. Entree choices are made at lunch time from the dinner menu list provided on a blackboard in the dining room.

Sample Dinner Menu

    • Pan Seared Scallop – roasted cauliflower, smoky tomato broth, lime butter
    • Strawberry Salad – ricotta, fried caper, balsamic, arugula
    • Gnocchi in Tomato Sauce-parmesan, rosemary
    • Choice of
      • Grilled Snapper – corn puree, salsa, lime vinaigrette
      • Truffle Potato Ravioli in Pesto -green bean, lemon zest
      • Beef Tenderloin -caramelized red onion jam, asparagus
    • Dessert a la carte

“My food is not pretentious or overly-spiced to mask the fresh flavors. My goal is to showcase the ingredients and let each plate be its own unique experience to my guest,” he explains. This goal he achieves in spades. And while Shane may be reluctant sing his own praises, guests will be sure to crow about their foodie experience. Shane is a perfectionist and he takes pleasure in elevating the ingredients he uses. There are no extraneous ingredients on his plates, and those which are selected are as harmonious to the eye as they are to the palate.

A Salad to Beat all Others?

Speaking of his standout characteristics – unpretentious and spontaneous – Chef Coffey tells a story of a particular dinner service at Alias when the kitchen ran out of Brussels sprouts for its signature mid-course, complimentary dish.

To Shane, guests expecting the mouth watering combination of Parmesan cheese and Brussels sprouts would still be taken care of…but with what? In a stroke of brilliance – some may call it luck; others an accident – Chef Coffey finely chopped market fresh kale chiffonade-style, and added olive oil, Parmesan cheese and lemon juice. To offset the bitterness of the kale, he added raisins. And still not quite satisfied, he tossed in some untoasted pine nuts. Well, the result was incredible. The mid-course complimentary salad was an instant hit. Word got out and guests began to request it as a dish unto itself!

Thank goodness you don’t have to imagine what this ingenious salad tastes like. Guests at The Meridian Club enjoy Kale Salad during the buffet lunch service and sometimes it will make an appearance at dinner. Delicious and wildly original, this salad speaks volumes about its creator.

When you are at The Meridian Club, don’t expect to see Chef Coffey fraternizing among the guests. He is usually occupied behind the scenes, and generally prefers to stay out of the limelight, save for a quick shy hello.

But if want to know him…it’s all right there in front of you on the plate. That is Chef Coffey.