How would you combine the titles, “Chef” and “Captain”? Captef? Cheftan? How about adding a slight French twist and saying, “Chef-i tan”!
That is what I called Ian Forte or E-Z Boy tours in Caye Caulker. Forte loves to cook, and is a masterful captain. Our first day of snorkeling was filled with discussion of sea life, ocean reserves, and our favorite things to eat. Forte’s eyes light up when you talk cuisine; it is his drive to make good, simple food.
Forte invited us for a second day tour to go to Goff’s Caye, an island off the coast of Belize City. The island is frequented by locals for barbeques and good-time cooking. It is home to an handful of lazy-loping palm trees, and sits at the edge of the barrier reef. You can snorkel from the beach to view a massive sampling of the best of Caribbean wildlife. The bends of the island make for terrific kid-friendly slopes into the ocean, with clear blue waters that are knee deep; perfect for practicing with your mask and fins.
Forte is a fourth-generation Caye Caulkerite. His knowledge of edible life on the reef is vast and passionate. He knows the best way to cook snapper, barracuda, and the ubiquitous conch. ” I think about what I can make, eat a lot of, and then relax. That’s what coming here is all about.” said Forte.
As our guide for the day, he went on to say, “I love to come here when I am, and when I am not working, and eat in the clean air and hang out.” I agreed with him, that something about the color of the ocean, salt air and time on the boat made for a great appetite – a collective, albeit intangible, reality of a day at sea. Feeding that appetite with freshly caught fish, local veggies, and natural juices did the trick to quench the soul.
Goff’s Caye houses a fire hearth and grill, along with a palapa, outhouse, and picnic tables. Forte has been cooking since he was a boy, learning grilling and picnic style techniques that lent themselves well to his work as a guide. Guides bring their own charcoal and wood, giving a smokey, charring aroma to the pre-lunch anticipation.
“It so happens that I am a good cook and I am a tour guide. I get to share this part of myself with our guests. I am an ambassador for Belize and food is a good way for that.” said Ian in his calm voice, his tone resounding with a meditative assuredness.” How people see Belize can depend upon how people see me. I take this very serious.”
Forte started the food for our picnic day the night before with prepping the vegetables. ” I like to make a mix of potatoes, squash, plantain, onion and tomatoes.” He sliced and seasoned the mix with salt and pepper, adding coconut oil before he folded the edges over to create a steaming envelope. Fresh barracuda was treated in a similar manner, seasoned and spiced with herbs and set to grill. “I like to let the natural flavor of the fish come through. You get a better taste that way without all that extra stuff.” said Forte.
“This guy really gets it.” said Mark. “The food is so good!”
Forte sets up a buffet for guests to come and eat after swimming and snorkeling. Plates get piled high with fish and veggies, along with sides of his coconut rice, seasoned shrimp and gravy.
Guests fill up before setting out again, and Forte preps pico de gallo so that during the ride home, he can free dive for fresh conch to make ceviche as a pre-departure treat. “Most people have never had it that fresh. When we are on our way back to the Caye, we serve this up and its like nothing else.”
Forte has what many cooks work hard for: natural talent, skill and sensitivity to ingredients. “I would love to take classes to go further.” he said. “I know there is so much more to know and I just love doing it.”
Tours with Chef-i-tain Ian Forte, commonly called “Captain Ian”, can be made through E-Z Boys tours, found online on facebook and when in Belize at 501-226-0349 / 501 610-2753. Please tell him we sent you and scoop up as much ceviche as you can.