Chef Profile: Jolene Nelson

Flava: How did you end up working as a chef?

I was offered a position with Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman after winning the Cayman Cookout Cookoff in January, 2009. I had developed a good relationship with the executive chef, Frederick, and he offered me a job when I was ready to take it up.
In a typical day, there is much kitchen management, quality control and the behind the scenes work that is not seen by the customer. It’s ordering, product, supplies, the stuff that makes it happen; it’s hard to make it sound fancy but it makes sure you get good food on your plate.

Flava: What would you say to others about the hospitality industry?

It is still relatively rare to see Caymanians pursuing a career in hospitality, which is disappointing. I think for the younger generation it has almost become taboo to work in the hospitality industry. If you are not in banking or the legal field then it is seen as not pursuing a valid career, which I think is a shame.
There’s a lot to be said for keeping the country running and tourism is one of our vital industries. It’s what keeps people coming and there is a lot of money banked. You can play such a vital role; the reason people come here is the people, the food, the culture and the interaction with what makes Cayman a special place.
It’s important for people to put their talent out there because the rewards and possibilities are numerous. There is no limit to where you could go in hospitality. You might start in one industry and it gives you a foothold to something else. It opens doors, gives you opportunities to broaden your horizons. Since winning the Cookoff, not only am I working in the culinary industry now, but I’ve been invited to do numerous cooking demonstrations with Bon Vivant and National Trust as well as some private events.
It’s great being able to do something you love and live it every day.

Flava: Do you have any tips for our FlavaReaders?

I like to cook with local ingredients where possible. We are so used to going to the supermarket and picking up what’s there so you tend to forget that there’s the whole other side of local ingredients.
Because of the Cookoff in 2009, where cooking with local ingredients was a requirement, I started going to a lot of local markets and the Market at the Grounds on a Saturday morning. It was absolutely wonderful; the local produce and the array of things that you didn’t think were available locally. For example, Patrick Panton has amazing greens and herbs, lettuces that are so fresh – the quality is amazing, you get a better taste.
Once you’ve put your foot in the water you have to jump in. There’s local duck, fish, chicken – the seafood here is unrivalled and it makes sense to buy it fresh.