Cover shoot: behind the scenes

The style and the stars of our glamorous cover photo

Chef Jason Huggins showcases the peppercorn and garlic prime rib. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaDianne Hunt styles the table in festive colours. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaMichelle Xavier preps make-up while Caribbean Beat editor Judy Raymond checks her messages. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaMichelle, Daren and Wendy chat like old friends. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaMichelle, Machel and Wendy eye the mouth-watering food. Photograph by Andrea De SilvaPeter Elias looks on as Sandra Hordatt makes up Wendy Fitzwilliam. Photograph by Andrea De Silva

Chef Jason Huggins knows the secret of good cooking. In fact, he can sum it up in one word: passion.

Style is also important, though – and that’s how Jason came up with the name for his new restaurant. Describing the kind of food he wanted to cook for his guests, he found himself saying over and over that it would be “casual dining with flair”.

So Flair it is, housed in a converted gingerbread house on Ariapita Avenue in Port of Spain, one of Trinidad’s busiest night spots. Flair is an airy, elegant, modern space, and we thought it would make the perfect setting for the festive meal we wanted to photograph for this issue’s cover.

Jason was happy to oblige, and even came up with a special holiday menu for the occasion, which the Caribbean Beat team and our celebrity guests shared after the photo shoot was finished. Jason says his menus at Flair are “international, eclectic: southwestern, Indian, Italian – a bit of everything”. But if he had to choose one cuisine that he favours, it would be southwestern, for “the element of spicy and bold”.

Jason is professionally trained but learned the basics of cooking as a boy, from his mother, who had “a Trini sweet hand”, and he’s passing on the family tradition: his son Jordan is apprenticing in the kitchen at Flair.

For a while on the morning of the photo shoot, with so many things to co-ordinate – clothes, makeup, table, food, photographer and the “talent”, to name a few – it seemed the Caribbean Beat team might have bitten off more than we could chew.

But our fashion stylist Peter Elias was an oasis of calm. He’s seen it all before, many, many times, while he was the Miss World franchise holder in Trinidad & Tobago for 15 years.

He’s been in the fashion business for 25 years, starting with selling fabric and moving on to ready-made clothes. Over the years Peter has become a stylist, as many professional people ask for his help in creating a look for themselves.

So styling our shoot was a stroll in the park for him. Working with a basic palette of black and white (selected by stylist Dianne Hunt), Peter chose casual, simple outfits that perfectly expressed the personalities of their wearers. It was easy, he told us. “I just co-ordinated them in a very gentle way so the personalities shine, not the clothes.

“Wendy is very glam; Daren is sexy but not untidy,” he summed them up. “Michelle is like a rock star; Machel is like Sparrow would be now.”

Peter sees Caribbean style as “a mood: effortless ease, joy in how we dress.”

And, he says, more and more, Caribbean people are choosing to go for an elegantly casual look like the one he chose for our photos, rather than formal dressing, even for special Christmas occasions.

For this year’s holiday season, he says ethnic jewellery and animal prints are in. “Animal print is huge. It’s not Caribbean, but the colours suit us. You could wear Indian or African patterns and prints with a black tube top, or a sari skirt with a plain top and a fab choker.”

Peter was especially pleased to be working with designer Dianne Hunt, who styled the table setting for us. “She has wonderful taste.”

Dianne is the woman behind two chains of stores, Radical Designs and DH Gift, where she sourced the china and flatware for our simple, classy cover setting. When we asked her to style the table, she knew immediately what look she would aim for: “Jasper Conran silver patterned plates and silver striped side plates, matched with etched stemware and Vera Wang flatware…red flowers to introduce vibrant colour. In general the look would be modern, with strong silver presence.”

Dianne says the international trend for Christmas this year is red and white, perhaps in the form of stripes or polka dots, “with striped accents, and sparkled sprinkles on the table for added shine and texture”.

Our celebrity guests for this festive lunch hardly need introductions – and they certainly didn’t need to be introduced to each other. As you can see from the pictures, within minutes they were chatting and laughing together like old friends.

Wendy Fitzwilliam, Miss Universe 1998, is the host and executive co-producer of Caribbean’s Next Top Model, which will star 30 potential models from the English-, Dutch- and French-speaking Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. The first segments were filmed in Trinidad & Tobago, and will be screened on Monday evenings from December 5, on WSEETV CBS.

When we met at Flair, Daren Ganga was about to fly to India to lead the Trinidad & Tobago cricket team in the Champions League T20 tournament. A right-handed batsman, Daren is a former West Indies player and has just completed a law degree. Last year he was appointed Trinidad & Tobago’s ambassador for sport.

Singer Michelle Xavier joined the band Imij & Co straight out of school, at 16. In the decade since then, she’s collaborated on songs with noted acts such as producer/songwriter/performer Kerwin Du Bois and Shurwayne Winchester. She’s also worked with 2011 Groovy Soca Monarch Kees Dieffenthaller and with another of our guests, Machel Montano. Michelle has now launched a solo career, and will release her debut album in 2012.

Machel had taken a leave of absence from Carnival, but came back with a bang this year, winning the Road March as well as the Soca Monarch contest. Incredibly, at 36, he’s celebrating three decades in the business. But we can’t tell you any more about his plans to mark that anniversary or what he has in store for Carnival 2012 – for that, you’ll have to wait to read the interview with Machel in Caribbean Beat’s January-February issue.