Above: Imen Epaminondas at work at her restaurant, YaKeen (All photos by CJ)
By Alexander Britell
GOSIER, GUADELOUPE — There was a church service across the street.
It was nighttime in Gosier, the market bubbling, the aroma of punch coco winding through the air.
We sat on a couple of stools, front row seats to the pink and white culinary workshop of Imen Epaminondas.
She didn’t start here, in the kitchen with the smoke and the oil.
In her previous life, the Tunisian native was an economics professor. But as with all great things, it was not as it had begun.
Above: the Friday market in Gosier
And three years ago she came here to Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, two and a half years later opening YaKeen, the laboratory where she combines her classical French training with Tunisian spice and French West Indian flavor.
This wasn’t our first stop at YaKeen that day. We had seen her jewel box of a restaurant in the morning, but it was too early to ask for bokit.
Now it was night, though, the hour of the bokit, that quintessentially Guadeloupean dish – a deep fried pocket of dough stuffed with whatever protein your heart desired and a mysterious, vibrant sauce. Wherever you are In this archipelago, you must eat it. And It is one of the great things you will ever eat.
Imen’s secret was that her bokits were even better than that.
We ordered two- one of classic Poulet and one of accras, both astonishingly good- perfectly crunchy yet soft dough and a festival of flavors within.
Then we ordered another- one she devised with morue and fried egg and tomato and Tunisian sauce and that was that.
She began to tell us more , more than her bokit had said themselves. Of her story, her French patisserie training, and brought out two samples: a sesame-scented samosa and a cinnamon half moon pastry, flavors of the Magrheb she once called home.
In a tiny box of a restaurant, delicately, elegantly ladling the oil and sizzling the codfish, Imen was a chef of the world, cooking up nations and languages and tastes, some her own, some foreign.
Whatever they were praying for across the street, whatever they were singing about, was surely coming true right here.