Born in a tiny fishing village on the island of Abaco in the Bahamas, Lovely Reckley was raised on a cuisine straight from the sea. “Growing up in Fox Town, we were actually right on the water,” she recalls. “The waves put you to sleep and they wake you up in the morning.”
“We basically grew-up on seafood,” she recalls. “We would eat other stuff, but the seafood we really loved. My mom was a great cook. I watched and saw everything she did and I really learned a lot from her.”
So it’s no wonder that many years later, Lovely runs a small restaurant in Marsh Harbour known for its affordable, delicious traditional Bahamian comfort foods: seafood, chicken dishes and burgers, always served up with a new, personal and innovative twist.
Aptly named Lovely’s Delight, the restaurant also became a critical community hub in the months after Hurricane Dorian slammed into her home island of Abaco last year, and many islanders lost literally everything. Homes. Belongings. Many also lost loved ones.
The foods that Lovely Reckley remembers loving the most as a child all came from the sea, like these beautiful fish being prepared by workers in the Fox Town fish market. | Photo: Zyandric Jones/IFRC
A scary time
It was a scary time, says Lovely, who was evacuated from Abaco along with her husband just a day before the storm hit due to her husband’s medical condition. “I had to leave the island, leave my children and my grandchildren and my great-grandson behind,” she says. “It was scary because there was no communication until a few days after the hurricane to know if everybody was ok.”
“It was like about a week after the hurricane that we found out that I’d lost my home and everything in the home, our vehicles and everything.”
Lovely almost lost her husband, who had a stroke the eve of the storm. And she almost lost the restaurant, a beloved local fixture that was also known as the home base for Lovely’s long-time commitment to providing meals to local children in need. “We had a lot of damage to the restaurant,” she recalls.
“So many homes were destroyed, and people were living in tents … they couldn’t cook for themselves.” Lovely Reckley, chef and owner of Lovely’s Delights, Abaco Island, the Bahamas
Lovely inspects the damage to her home caused when Hurricane Dorian, a category 5 Atlantic hurricane that smashed through the Bahamas on September 1, 2018. | Photo: Zyandric Jones/IFRC
The Hurricane Burger
Ultimately, the restaurant pulled Lovely and her husband through — becoming their new home after a renovation made possible by the American Red Cross and the CORE added a new living space to the small structure. And because Lovely’s Delight was one of the first businesses to reopen, it provided a place for people to gather after the storm, easing their minds and their hunger pains.
“We could get up and running and help people with food, which was on the island but because so many homes were destroyed, and people were living in tents, they couldn’t cook for themselves.”
So once again, Lovely’s Delights became a base for making meals for people in need of some comfort during hard times. “Because of the help that we got from CORE and the Red Cross we got our building back in shape so that we can truly save our community,” Lovely says. “I was able to cook meals, make bread … That was a big help.”
Meanwhile, Lovely’s Delight is a real family affair with kids and grandkids prepping and serving dishes such as “The Hurricane Burger” (in honor of the many storms people here have weathered), spicy chicken wings with names like “Da Burner”, and burrito-style wraps made with lobster, fish, chicken and shrimp.
Now it’s the grandkids who are picking up culinary tips from their very own local celebrity chef grandma. “When I first got the restaurant, all of the children were involved,” she says. “Now it’s myself and my two grand-daughters and we have a few other workers that also come help. They’re always there to help out.”
Today, Lovely’s Delights is a family affair, with owner Lovely Reckley joined by two grand-daughters who help their grandmother by taking the orders, prepping the food and wrapping it to go. | Photo: Zyandric Jones/IFRC