Women Cooking Up a Storm

Chef Jessica Moore

(Chef’s) hats off to the creativity, skill and grit of women making their way in the food industry.

It’s no secret that the restaurant industry has long been male dominated. Only 19 percent of chefs in the U.S. are women, and that number shrinks to seven percent for head chefs, according to food delivery platform Grubhub.

But change is afoot. Women are breaking through the so-called ‘stainless steel ceiling’, accruing more awards and taking up the helm of food businesses. Look at three Michelin-starred chef Clare Smyth, who visited Cayman for Slow Food Day 2017, emerging from Gordon Ramsay’s tutelage to launch her own London restaurant. Or the fact that the coveted categories of Outstanding Chef, Rising Star Chef and Outstanding Restaurateur at the James Beard Awards 2018 were all won by women (Gabrielle Hamilton, Camille Cogswell and Caroline Styne respectively).

The Cayman Islands is fortunate to have a thriving and supportive community of chefs, with several mentorship schemes and competitions encouraging people of all backgrounds to develop their love of cooking.

Maureen Cubbon

Cayman Islands Food Revolution Ambassador; Wellness Coordinator at Bestlife

How would you describe your style of cooking?

I would say rustic with a bit of elegance. I believe in using the highest quality and freshest ingredients possible and showcasing bold flavors. Working with local ingredients is key. I grew up in a house where we had drawers and cabinets full of spices and herbs, and a garden of plants, so there was an emphasis on home-cooked goodness that always tasted heavenly.

What made you want to become a chef?

My big moment was when I made it to the semifinals for the Cayman Cookout Amateur Chef competition in 2012; I didn’t win but it gave me such a great deal of confidence when it came to take a career with food seriously. I made it to the finals again and 2013 and won, which I believe was because of my learning curve from the year before. It just felt like the timing was right for me to really make the jump and create a niche. So far, so good.

Who have your mentors or biggest influences been from the Cayman food scene? 

My mom for sure; she is the best cook around. Food was – and still is – an expression of love and gratitude in our family and I keep that central to my work ethic. And if it wasn’t for people like Niven Patel from Ghee Miami, Cynthia Hew of Bon Vivant and Frederick Morineau of the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman, I don’t think I would have taken my passion to the next level.

Which other food personalities inspire you?

I have always been a big Jamie Oliver for many reasons: inspiring chef, tireless advocate and incredibly passionate about food. Being involved in Cayman Cookout year after year has allowed me to connect with chefs like Eric Ripert and Jose Andres, who I really admire because they are constantly innovating, exploring and supporting causes that are for the betterment of the community. And when I grow up, I want to be Ina Garten!

What advice would you give to girls considering this profession?

I’m a huge believer in the critical links between food, culture, society and human connection. I am also a big believer in girl power and have the privilege to work with girls in the Cayman Islands through our school programs and cooking classes at Bon Vivant.  The culinary career path – whether you want to be a chef, teacher or businesswoman – is a great way to make a difference in people’s lives. If you have the chance to even just dabble in the wonderful world of food, I think the rewards can be dazzling.

What are your next ambitions as a chef?

I think education and helping people understand food and getting passionate about cooking is the way forward, so anything that allows me to do that is awesome. I would love to see the Seed2plate program (which is under the Cayman Food Revolution to teach youth about where food comes from, healthful choices and cooking) to be in every school in some capacity. And I would love to have a vintage food truck.

 

Jolene Nelson

Head Chef, pico taqueria

How would you describe your style of cooking?

My style of cooking has evolved over the years to a more health conscious and wellness focused one. Over 80 percent of our immune system exists in our gut; we literally are what we eat and so many common illness or health issues stem from what we put into our bodies. I love to recreate meals using more nutritional substitutes, making them lighter, healthier and more delicious than our traditional, heavier versions.

What made you want to become a chef?

While I’ve always loved to cook and by all accounts been pretty good at it, it didn’t become a career option for me until 2009 when I entered the Cayman Cookout Amateur Chefs competition and won. It took on a life of its own after that and it’s been non-stop ever since.

Who have your mentors or biggest influences been from the Cayman food scene?

Chefs Bernard Guillas and Eric Ripert both have provided invaluable support; they have such huge reach and influence. Executive pastry chef Melissa Logan and chef Sara Mair are both kick-ass women, chefs and moms who own everything they do with such infallible energy. They’ve really been a huge professional and personal influence on me. Lastly, I was fortunate enough to be at the side of Frederic Morineau, executive chef at the Ritz-Carlton, for six years. He embodied leadership and always put his whole-hearted faith and belief in me.

Which other food personalities inspire you?

We’re at a time in society where it’s easy to become desensitized to the state of the world around us. You look at people like Jose Andres with his personal efforts and the resulting impact made with the hurricane victims in Puerto Rico, and it speaks to an aspect of humanity that too often goes unrecognized. Sure, it’s great to write a cheque and donate to a cause but it’s another to get out there yourself and lead by example to really make a difference.

What are your next ambitions as a chef?

I’ve really enjoyed allowing myself to evolve over the last few years, to see where each new opportunity has taken me without forcing expectations or holding on to a structured plan. I’d love to continue to travel and expand my international culinary knowledge.

  

Jessica moore

Owner of catering company Taste this Life

How would you describe your style of cooking?

My style of cooking is a fusion of Caribbean cuisine that is constantly being influenced by the new skills I’m learning daily, whether that be French, Asian or American stylings.

What made you want to become a chef?

Cooking has been more of a slow burning passion. It’s been in my blood through the generations and my love for it has been growing since my tween years. But I would have to say one of the nights that I came home, busted down and tired after mentoring in the restaurant, and I still had a smile on my face – that made me realize this was it, and it was all worth it.

Who have your mentors or biggest influences been from the Cayman food scene?

My mentor Alan Markoff has been a character since the day I met him. I thank him for taking the time to teach me every night after work for years until I took this adventure on full-time. And, of course, my parents!

Which other food personalities inspire you?

Chef Dominique Crenn is a huge source of inspiration for me. I’ve followed her for a few years and hope to train under her someday. Also, chef Alex Guarnaschelli of New York’s Butter restaurant, as again she her her own unique style and is trailblazing in the culinary world.

What advice would you give to girls considering this profession?

Jump in! We need more creative, dedicated females in the industry. Be prepared for hard work and long nights, but also think of the places, the people you meet and adventures this profession has to offer. The possibilities are endless.

What are your next ambitions as a chef?

I have lots of exciting ideas that I can’t wait to see come to life, I just hope that you follow me on this journey to see what they are! But I would definitely like to do some more training internationally and come back home to open up a quaint but lively restaurant of my own specialties.