Close your eyes and imagine the euphoria of sinking your teeth into an incredible meal. The way that the textures caress your mouth, and the flavours tickle your taste buds. Inhale its unique aroma as your eyes lay sight to a little piece of heaven on earth. It’s amazing, isn’t it? To indulge in something so delicious, that calories no longer count and the only thing that concerns you is that the experience is ending. Today we recognise the culinary artists that make this feeling possible. A group of the Caribbean’s most sought-after chefs, whose passion continues to make us speak in interjections with each culinary creation. Just thinking about it is making me hungry!
Damian Leach could not have guessed at 13 years old, that frustrating his art teacher and being moved to a food and nutrition class instead, would lead him to become the Barbados Chef of the Year. Today, the once mischievous little boy, could not imagine himself doing anything else. The Executive Chef and General Manager of Cocktail Kitchen in St. Lawrence Gap, Barbados, this award-winning chef also finds the time to oversee his second co-owned business, Mill & Co restaurant in Canewood, St. Thomas. In addition to the creativity of the food industry, Damian loves that his work leads him to travel. “After winning the chef of the year titles, I was able to partner with the BTMI and travel to some amazing places around the world, showcasing our Bajan cuisine and promoting the island,” he shares with excitement. A proud Bajan, Damian talks highly about his island blessed with crystal clear waters and amazing people.
In addition to the typical local attractions, Damian takes pride in knowing that, “tourists flock to Barbados, no longer just for the sun, sea and sand, but to experience our cuisine and to taste the authentic Caribbean flavours.” Heavily influenced by local products and dishes, like black belly lamb and breadfruit, Damian’s cuisine is full of flavour; he terms it, “the Caribbean way”. Though the Caribbean is generally known for a relaxed attitude, there is no escaping the tense environment of a busy restaurant kitchen.
Unlike most, cooking is not just a passion or hobby for Craig Jones, it’s an obsession. Forever consumed by smells, tastes and textures, Craig can be considered a perfectionist. Despite being an executive chef at Cap Maison in St. Lucia, he confesses to still wearing a blue apron. “This is the mark of a commis chef or apprentice,” he explains, “and a daily reminder to continue learning – every day.” Craig considers a restaurant to be like a workshop where new dishes, concepts and techniques are developed and shared with guests. “The aim is to create dishes and techniques that engage guests’ sensory, emotional and intellectual faculties to the full.” To hear Craig speak about cuisine creation would make your taste buds water, just knowing that his obsession can only translate into an impeccable meal. It is hard to imagine that he was once polishing chef’s copper pans in Manchester, pleading for a chance in the kitchen.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, he makes a shopping trip to Casteries in the heart of town to find exotic ingredients. “The sheer range of food and variety of stalls make it an icon of gastronomy, and a marvel for the senses,” he says. “Purchases made here include fresh vanilla pods, spices, fruits, vegetables from the rich volcanic soil of Soufriere, and pork from lush fields of Choiseul – a land of such beauty and inspiration.” It is no secret that Craig’s passion speaks for itself. “Pleasure, passion and perfection,” he tells us. “To give pleasure you have to take pleasure, maintaining the passion every day.”
Cindy Hutson and Delius Shirley
“I tricked her into the business with our first restaurant, Norma’s on the Beach,” Delius Shirley spoke about his partner Cindy Hutson. Son of the famed Jamaican chef Norma Shirley, Delius was inspired by the culinary world from a young age. “My mother’s plate was her canvas and she created masterpieces that weren’t only art but magical food,” Delius reminisces, his story, an interesting contrast to his partner’s. “My mom really did not enjoy cooking and took every shortcut she could,” Cindy shared. From the age of nine, Cindy took the home cooking into her own hands, building her own passion for the art.
Though she was not formally trained, Cindy followed Delius into the deep end of the culinary world and quickly learned to swim. In addition to owning three restaurants between Miami and the Caribbean, the pair also work as restaurant consultants, creating often Caribbean-inspired restaurant concepts. “There is no one I’d rather be in the trenches, side-by-side through thick and thin with,” Delius commented on his friend and partner.
New Jersey raised Cindy reciprocates the admiration of not only her partner, but the Caribbean and the diversity of its ethnic cuisines.
Though her journey has been a “roller coaster of ups, downs, twists and turns,” Cindy has “enjoyed the excitement of the ride.” Her culinary book, ‘From the Tip of My Tongue’ won the best female chef cookbook in the US, and entered her in to The World Gourmand Awards held in China, as one of the top three female culinary writers. A duo to be reckoned with, the success of Delius and Cindy is a prime illustration of what can be accomplished when hard work meets passion.