Creamy sauces, caramelized onions, julienned carrots and frenzied chefs running back and forth in a makeshift kitchen. Nope, it wasn’t another quick fire challenge on Bravo’s Top Chef. Instead it was students from various secondary schools around the island competing in the first Chefs in Schools Cookoff. The event was just one of the many activities on tap for Independence Day festivities at the Beausejour Cricket Grounds. St Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association project assistant Wendel George said the idea was born out of another popular culinary battle.
“We usually go to the Taste of the Caribbean Competition held in Miami for hotel chefs and every year we participate in that competition. So in 2012 when the chefs went to Miami they came back to St Lucia with a bunch of gold, silver, and bronze. They came back with so many awards that we decided to have this programme called the Chefs in Schools, where the chefs from the hotels would visit the various schools on the island and we would do practical sessions with the students.
“The chefs would give background information about themselves, their journey as a chef and so on. So from that programme we gave the students a promise that we’re going to have a bigger event, which is what we had this year.”
A total of ten teams participated, comprised of two students each. All the schools represented had taken part in the Chef in Schools programme. George broke down the competition criteria.
“It was a two round competition. The first round was a mystery basket where a few select items were taken from all the ingredients and they were supposed to cook from that. They must use all the ingredients provided. And the second round was a signature dish where they just cooked whatever they wanted, whether it’s something they learned from their parents or from the chefs that they were training with at the hotels. It was a freestyle dish pretty much.”
When the dust settled it was Soufriere Secondary School students Jana James and Shirlianna Lamontagne, mentored by Chef Elijah Jules of Jade Mountain Resort, who emerged victorious with 119 points. In second place with 115 points was Eustacia Laurencin and Aquila Mitchel from the Choiseul Secondary School mentored by Chef Nigel Mitchell of Ladera Resort. And rounding out the top three was Marigot Secondary School students Krystal Remy and Billy Raynold mentored by Chef Clayton Julien of Capella at Marigot Bay, who finished with 114 points.
The first place winners received a brand new cooker from Courts and will also represent St Lucia in Barbados at the Caribbean Dueling Junior Competition scheduled for April. The students will be accompanied by a chef and their teacher. George ran down the list of other prizes. It turns out no one left empty handed.
“We had cell phones from Digicel, we had tours, sunset cruises from our member company Sea Spray Cruises. We had credit and so on from Digicel as well. Everyone received a certificate of participation and we also gave every student a plaque. And they got gifts from Sol, which was one of our gold sponsors. Little gift bags with books and pens in them.”
Judges for the competition included specially invited guest Chef Edward Harris Jr, winner of the 2010 Food Network season four Chopped television show, Robbie Skeete, highly acclaimed owner of Caribbean Pirates restaurant, and also Chef Pascal, Bay Gardens Hotel executive chef.
Though the event did not pick up steam until early afternoon, George was thrilled with the end result.
“In the morning there were not that many but later in the afternoon about two or three o’ clock that’s when it got really crowded and there was limited space to pass for the children to run to the tables and get their ingredients and back and forth. The reception was great. It was a great event.”