The Fish Trap celebrates 33 years of fabulous food
He is one of St. John's most beloved chefs. Growing up on the island, Aaron Willis trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York and brought his expertise back home.
Friendly and even folksy, Willis is no stuffy prima dona. He just loves food, and has made it his business to create dining pleasures for those who visit The Fish Trap, his restaurant in Cruz Bay. Nestled in a tropical family friendly setting, The Fish Trap has become a landmark for the freshest seafood in the entire region, celebrating 32 years of operation in 2013.
About 20 years ago Willis returned to St. John, after culinary school and a stint honing his craft in California, to help run The Fish Trap, then owned by his parents. After decades of working exclusivley in St. John, he took his talent to Grand Cru at Yacht Haven Grand Marina in St. Thomas.
Willis later reopened The Fish Trap with some of his original recipes and creative new inventions. He now owns and operates the restaurant with his wife Lisa, a native of St. Vincent, who ran the dining room at the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda for many years. On any given night you can find the dynamic duo on-site and smiling. Sometimes you might also catch a glimpse of Nathan Willis, who at nearly two years old, is already a veteran in his father's kitchen.
The Fish Trap's chowder, conch fritters and tuna with soy glaze and wasabi mayonnaise are legendary, along with a coconut cake, served with a spice rum caramel sauce. And the innovative daily features continue to keep it all creative for Willis and his following. Willis says he likes to “combine flavors and textures with eye appeal", observing that “ if it doesn’t feel good in your mouth, the meal just won’t be memorable.”
The family also operates The Fish Trap Seafood Market next to the restaurant. Inside you'll find the best fish on the island, and take home options for The Fish Trap's award winning chowder. Some of the people who fish the local waters are among Willis's former classmates when he was growing up in St. John, so he often gets first choice of the freshest daily catch. On any given day the market is brimming with sushi grade tuna, shrimp, oysters, clams, mussels and more.
According to loyal guests, The Fish Trap experience just keeps getting better. Willis attributes it to more “wisdom” behind his dishes, and Lisa, who adds to the atmosphere, with her warm approach to customers.
Willis began experimenting with the contents of his family’s fridge, as a pre-teen, and chopped vegetables and learned to create stocks from scratch at local restaurants. By junior high he had already decided to pursue a culinary career. The rest is history.
Photo of Nathan, Lisa and Aaron Willis and unnamed fish, courtesy The Fish Trap.
Virginvoices.com photo of Chef Aaron Willis by D.B. Bostdorf
Check out a video of Aaron demonstratting a signature dish here.
Maura Curley is publisher of virginvoices.com