Plantain has long been a staple crop across the diaspora. Often grown in more tropical climates and regions, the banana-like fruit is very versatile and can be prepared in many ways. Saint Martin—the half Dutch, half French Caribbean island— recently kicked off its second-annual Festival de la Gastronomie (from Nov. 11- Nov. 22), and this year's theme was plantain.

The Saint Martin Festival de la Gastronomie is a nearly two-week celebration that further proves why the island is one of the top culinary destinations in the Caribbean. Local chefs from over 50 restaurants will dig into their creativity bag to curate special plantain-focused menus that will be judged by highly acclaimed global chefs, including Netflix's Kevin Bludso, New York-based private chef to the stars Renee Blackman, and many more. Menu highlights range from homemade plantain ice cream to giant prawns in a plantain curry sauce. Although the options are endless, you will truly be blown away by the things the chefs can do with one simple ingredient.

"I was really compelled to not only be a part of this festival, but also help showcase that there are more than 150 nationalities here," chef Renee Blackman told EBONY. "I'm from Barbados, so seeing the gastronomy that's here really is something that influences and inspires me. You really want to be around something like that, and I'm able to bring it back home to the States. Plantains are a favorite of mine, I grew up on them. It's easy to work with, and I implemented them into a Scotch Bonnet BBQ sauce that I made during the live cooking demo."

International chefs judging the 2022 event. Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

In addition to live cooking demos and special plantain-themed menus, the festival features culinary as well as mixology competitions happening around all Saint Martin. Texas-based BBQ expert, Kevin Bludso, was the headline judge for the island's first major BBQ showdown during the event.

Festival de la Gastronomie attracts visitors from all over the world, because it truly is a time to experience the island's melting pot of flavors. A regular to the island, Sidra Smith, the actress Tasha Smith's twin sister, was also in attendance at this year's festivities.

"I just love Saint Martin because it truly is a friendly island," Smith told EBONY. "The food is wonderful, the people are wonderful, and the beaches are wonderful. It's just my favorite place, it's family. My favorite place on the island is Loterie Farm. It's magical. Anyone who visits the island needs to go there."

Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

Whether you're in Saint Martin for vacation or for Festival de la Gastronomie, there are several things you'll want to see and do while there. Sitting at just around 35 sq-miles, you can easily explore a significant chunk of the island in about 4-5 days before heading home or hopping over to a nearby island.

As Smith mentioned, Loterie Farm is a must-see. It's a 135-acre private nature sanctuary with everything from a natural swimming pool and ziplining to hiking and restaurants. If you love boating excursions and island hopping, renting a luxury yacht from Yes Darling is the perfect way to spend one of your days on the island. The yacht experience stops at 2-3 of Saint Martin's best beaches and snorkeling spots, and comes with plenty of wine and champagne onboard. There are 37 beaches to choose from on the island, and honestly, it's hard to name the best— even for local residents. It really just boils down to your personal preference.

You'll also want to keep your eyes and camera ready for the amazing Black wall art around the island, too.

Image: courtesy of DeAnna Taylor.

When it comes to cuisine and restaurants, it's very hard to have a bad meal in Saint Martin. But if you enjoy authentic local fare, stop by the island's Les lolols— a row of food shacks located along the waterfront in Marigot, serving up the best Creole dishes from johnny cakes, red snapper, fried plantain and Ti' punch.

Finally, where you stay also matters. For stunning luxury villas, check out the Terres Basses neighborhood on the French side of the island. The island's Dutch side is home to larger hotels and chains.