Sunday, April 14, 2024

Cooking Caribbean style

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Jason Butcher has come a long way from being a porter working at a private residence at Sandy Lane to now being senior sous chef of Garde Manger at the Fontainebleau, Miami Beach, Florida.

The aspiring executive banquet chef (he wants to attain that status in the next two years) said his interest in cooking was piqued by watching Chef Robert Weikel, who was the personal chef for a Venezuelan family at the private residence.

He became Weikel’s shadow in the kitchen and Weikel in turn took the young lad under his wings, teaching him basic knife skills and simple cooking techniques.

Jason could not stay out of the kitchen as his interest was now a burning passion and he started trying his hands at various recipes.

The former student of St James Secondary (now Frederick Smith Secondary School), who says as a former athlete he held the record for seven years for the 100 metres at that school, then attended Barbados Community College (PomMarine), pursuing the professional cooking programme and menu design.

He got the opportunity to go further, going onto formal training at the Florida Culinary Institute in culinary arts.

“I have to give credit to my former employer at the private residence at Sandy Lane. He saw my potential and passion and encouraged me to pursue formal training. I am very grateful to him for not only encouraging me but also generously financing my studies at Florida Culinary Institute,” said Jason, who also said his first professional kitchen job was at the Sandy Lane Hotel, where he spent two years there.

While pursuing studies at Florida Culinary Institute, he was fortunate to be chosen for an internship at the Ritz Carlton Palm Beach.  He then was employed there on a permanent basis as a Cook 3.

“I stayed for a year and moved to Ritz Carlton South Beach as a Cook 2. During that time I started progressing up the brigade system.  From cook 2 I moved on to chef de partie then demi chef, in a three year period. My time at the Ritz Carlton taught me to be truly professional.”

Jason next stint was moving onto the Fontainebleau, Miami Beach.

“I was hired in February 2013 as a junior sous chef of the banquet kitchen by executive chef Thomas Connell. When the opportunity for the new position in Garde Manger became available I was highly recommended for the position. chef Thomas is not only my current leader he is also a great mentor. His vision for my career is structured on me becoming a very successful banquet chef.”

Jason heaped more praises on Thomas, as they both were featured on the cable channel NBC for the annual SOBE Food And Wine Festival, held last weekend in Florida.

Jason says he cannot see himself doing any other job, so much so that he even married a chef (they met at Florida Culinary Institute).

“We have been married for five years and we have two beautiful children. And that is one of the hardest parts of my job . . . . The long hours that keep me away from my family for long periods. The upside of the business is getting the necessary experience in managing banquets due to the fact that I work in such a large establishment.  The hotel I work in is one of the largest hotels on the Eastern Seaboard of the United States.

“The property has 107 000 square feet of indoor meeting space and has a revenue base for banquets of US$43 million annually.  I also get the opportunity to meet some very interesting people who frequent Miami Beach.

“Because of the opportunities presented to me I am now in a position where I can mentor other young chefs in their chosen fields. I previously had the opportunity to give one of my fellow Barbadians a position in the banquet kitchen.”

Talking about food, Jason’s speciality it is pan-seared scallops, cauliflower textures, raisin gastique and olive crumble “but the dish that defines my cooking style is grilled jerk cornish hen, cassava spaetzel, mustard greens, plantain jam and Guinness jus. Obviously you recognise that this dish is influenced by the Caribbean. 

“Caribbean chefs have been in a culture where we respect other cuisines outside of our own. We put so much emphasis on other cultures and fail to be creative with our own cuisine, especially when working outside of the Caribbean. I always keep in the back of my mind that tourists travel to the Caribbean to experience our culture and cuisine.”

Jason said throughout his cooking journey his most humbling experience was his first major event at Fontainbleau. 

“That first event we catered for 1 500 people and it was particularly challenging for me because previously at the Ritz Carlton Hotel the largest group I have managed was 500, but it was a great learning experience. It has taught me to be tolerant of others and to appreciate that all people are not the same. I manage a staff of approximately 40 people, who are all from different backgrounds and come from various walks of life. It has also taught me to be a better leader.”

Jason, who grew up in Husbands, St James, says he tries to come home at least once a year to see his mum, Jennifer Hinkson, who is an assistant registrar at the University of the West Indies, but one day hopes to return home for good with his family.

“It is my hope that I would return to Barbados someday as an executive chef at one of the leading hotels. I believe that the skills I have acquired will be of some benefit.”

 

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