Jamaica has always had famous chefs, such as the late Norma Shirley, who operated from Norma’s on the Terrace, at Devon House, for many years. She was fondly known as the “Julia Child of the Caribbean.” Norma’s cooking style and texture of menus live on through those she taught; and is also captured in the culinary tour of Jamaica, “Nyam Jamaica,” written by Barbadian Chef and food writer, Rosemary Parkinson; with photo-graphs by Jamaican Photographer, Cookie Kinkead.
In 21st century Jamaica, young chefs are also emerging, not only to become bona ﬁde entrepreneurs, but to estab-lish their own restaurants; and operate as caterers, as well as to stage special brunch and dinner events.
The Menu Guide spoke with Chef Karl Thomas, now Executive Chef and Chef Technologist, operating Lillian’s Restaurant, at the University of Tech-nology, Jamaica (UTECH). Chef Thoms, who catered for the Jamaican athletic team at the London 2012 Olympics, spoke like a proud father about the budding chefs he taught at the Runaway Bay HEART Hotel & Training Institute, prior to moving on to UTECH.
His path to the culinary arts began at Tarrant Secondary School, where he studied plumbing, carpentry and food preparation. He decided that he enjoyed food preparation, which led to his matriculation at the Runaway Bay HEART Hotel & Training Institute where he completed Levels One and Two in Food Preparation; and the Ad-vanced Chef Programme, which included three levels for Certiﬁcation by the Culinary Institute of America. He also completed— Certiﬁed Culinaria, Certi-ﬁed Chef de Cuisine and Certiﬁed Ex-ecutive Chef, which are also approved by the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
Chef Thomas was particularly proud of his proteges from HEART/NTA including—Shea Stewart, Garcia Brown, Brian Lumley, Theo Smith, Nicolas Beckford, and George Matthews.
Shea Stewart, fondly called “The Bachelor Chef” is making his personal mark on Kingston’s culinary landscape through his company, Elite Kreations, which caters for all-inclusive parties, private dinners, corporate events and weddings; as well as, prepares meals and snacks for several delicatessens and supermarkets, in the Corporate Area, on a daily basis.
“Culinary service is on a rise, as more people are respecting the craft, and being a chef is no longer seen as doing the job of an underachiever,” Shea says. Executive Chef, Garcia Brown excelled at the HEART/NTA Institute. He was the gold medal winner in the 2011 Taste of Jamaica Chef of the Year competition, and silver medalist in 2012. He is currently the Chef at the Brazilian Embassy.
Brian Lumley, who was “Caribbean Chef of the Year” at the Taste of Caribbean Culinary Showcase 2013…has been cooking since he was nine years old. Now a Certiﬁed Chef de Cui-sine, he travels to many countries to participate in culinary competitions. Some of his other awards include: The Observer Food Awards 2010, double nomination for Chef of the Year and Caterer of the Year; and the Taste of Jamaica’s Hans Schenk Award 2010, for Most Innovative Use of Caribbean Ingredients.
Lumley, who currently operates 689 Brian Lumley at the Quad in New Kingston, maintains that he has to stay on top of his game all the time because, “I am only as good as the last dish I created.”
Chef, Theo Smith studied Food Service Management at UTECH, has worked and studied overseas. In August 2013, he completed his second year at Great House Caterers, where as Executive Chef he specializes in Italian, French and Mediterranean cuisine.
Nicolas Beckford in his quest to rise to the top, says, “I watch those who have excelled in the profession and match my game against theirs.” He is currently the Personal Chef to the Deputy US Ambassador.
George Matthews, a Certiﬁed Execu-tive Chef, worked at Norma’s on the Terrace, and won many culinary awards for his expertise at the Jamaica Observer’s Food Awards in 2010 and 2011;. He has been featured as a guest chef on television shows; and is currently Personal Chef to the US Ambassador.
Chef Thomas’ advice to his past stu-dents and other young chefs: “Today, young chefs need to focus on more tra-ditional techniques. Find their roots, rather than focus on the ﬂair of being a chef.” And, he maintains that, “You will never achieve much, if you don’t share what you know with others.”