Apparently the success of Nina Compton has done more than placing Saint Lucia on the map, and perhaps has changed the mindset of our leaders. Well maybe those in the ministry of tourism at least. This year the Saint Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association (SLHTA) organized the first ever National Secondary Schools Cook-Off, which saw the crowning of the Soufriere Secondary School as the overall victors. Representing the school was the duo of Jana James and Shirlianna Lamontagne. I sat down with the pair to discuss their experience and thrill of winning it all.
Jana and Shirlianna are both 16-year-old Form Five students who reside in the beautiful town of Soufriere. The two young ladies, who were not expecting my visit, related their experience.
“I was excited to be taking part in the competition but I was also nervous because I thought we wouldn’t make it into round two. But it was a very fun experience and I enjoyed it,” stated Jana.
“The experience was a very educational one. I had a lot of fun. I enjoyed going to Jade Mountain and being able to learn all the skills needed in the kitchen and then doing what I learnt for the competition,” Shirlianna replied.
Both girls are food enthusiasts and want to take up careers that are food related. They both confessed to Food and Nutrition being their favorite subject.
“I am currently studying 5 subjects for CXC. I love cooking, as well as reading, going out and shopping. My dream is to one day be a nutritionist” said Jana.
Shirlianna on the other hand wants to be a chef.
“I am studying 9 subjects for CXC. I’m a talker; I like to talk (chuckles). I love to Skype, use BBM; I love singing, dancing and poetry.”
The two could barely put into words the wonderful feeling of being the first ever victors of the National Secondary Schools Cook-Off held on Independence Day, and explained that they were proud to be the ones to take the title to Soufriere Secondary.
“When we won, it was a breathtaking moment, like ‘oh my gosh’! Overall, a really nice experience being able to participate and bring the trophy to SCSS,” the two exclaimed.
“On a personal level, winning the competition really boosted my confidence, and made me feel like, “yes I can handle the world now”, because now I know that I am able to do certain things and they are acceptable. Also persons told me that they were watching me on TV, so that really gave me joy and made me feel that I should continue” explained Shirlianna.
Head of the Food and Nutrition Department at the school, Nashaka Charlery, explained that she was very confident that the two students would do well.
“When it was first mentioned that there would be a National Schools Cook-Off and that the school was to send two representatives, I had no doubts about sending Jana and Shirlianna because I had the privilege of assessing them in Form 4. I was very impressed with both of them especially the skills of Jana, and I thought that we should really keep an eye on her and push her. Because I believe that she has the natural talent that is necessary in that field.
“Myself and the other F&N teacher, Miss Joseph, have been organizing school competitions like cup cake wars and cook-offs at the Form 5 level. In the last week of term 2 the students competed for the coveted title of SCSS Combination Cook-Off Champion,” said Charlery.
Charlery stated that Jana and Shirlianna are not the only students to excel at cooking.
“Chef Eli (Elijah Jules) is one of our guest judges for our cook-offs, and he is the one who works with our students and prepares them for competition. Last year there was no National Schools Cook-Off and the SLHTA asked Chef Eli to choose two students to represent the island at a regional cook-off. Through his involvement with our cook-offs, he chose Tessa Wilson and Neka Andre, who were the stand out performers. “He trained them and they went over to Barbados and competed against students from eight different islands in the Caribbean. Despite the challenges they faced, they were able to triumph and win the title for Saint Lucia.”
“Our school’s cook-off initiative and having Chef Eli as a ‘coach’ has definitely reaped rewards for SCSS. He has more or less adopted the school so we are definitely sticking with him for future competitions,” Charlery concluded.
We certainly hope that the National Secondary Schools Cook-Off Competition is established as an annual event on the secondary school calendar of activities and that it may be the nucleus for the emergence of more budding ‘Chef Ninas’.