Chef on the rise – Colleen Royes
Chef Colleen Royes considers being a chef a late-in-life calling. After completing a degree in Management and Economics at the University of the West Indies and working at the national airline for nine years, she longed for a change. She loved to cook and it seemed a no-brainer the moment she decided to enter the culinary world. Fast-forward nine years from that moment. With a culinary degree under her belt and valuable experience gained at Half Moon Hotel, Goddard Catering and Round Hill Hotel and Villas, Royes is now the executive chef and co-owner of Decadent Catering and Events and Grillerz Restaurant. Her passion, drive and ambition come from a perceived notion that she always has to be playing catch-up, to make up for the time spent in the airline industry.
My passion for food started as a child. I grew up with my grandparents and we always had meals together as a family. Meals, especially breakfast and dinner, were an important time for us to talk about the upcoming day or the day that was ending. My grand-uncle was the head cook, and breakfast was always the typical Jamaican fare: ackee and salt fish, or liver with bananas, or callaloo and salt fish with roasted breadfruit or boiled green bananas. I used to watch him cook when I could and by the age of eight or nine I could fry an egg and make a sandwich. My grandmother also had a big encyclopaedic cookbook from the Culinary Institute of America that I would pore through for hours and even attempted making muffins and popovers which seemed to be the easiest things to try. It gave me immense pleasure to hear how much they enjoyed it, if I prepared something that my family liked. And that is the main motivation, to this day, that people eating food I have prepared enjoy the experience.
I have been in the business for nine years, since I did my first externship at Goddard Catering and then from there to the Half Moon Hotel. I then started taking small catering gigs, mostly from friends and family, which helped to sustain me after I had resigned my position at Air Jamaica and the opportunity to do a work-study programme in Canada fell through. Then Round Hill called in response to my application and I was offered a position as a cook, which proved to be a defining moment. It was at Round Hill that I honed my culinary skills and gained invaluable experience. I stayed there for two years and then moved to a corporate position as the first catering sales manager of the newly opened convention centre in Montego Bay. The desire to start my own business grew and led to the founding of Decadent Catering and Events in 2012. This has proved to be the most fulfilling part of my culinary journey so far.
My must-have ingredients are fresh herbs such as onion, garlic, escallion, parsley, rosemary and thyme. I also must have tomatoes, Scotch bonnet peppers, whole pepper grains, butter, eggs and at least one type of cheese. Of course this is a difficult question to answer as a chef, as you can think of many more items that are possible must-haves.
What keeps me passionate about food goes back to my childhood days and that is, the aim to please everyone who partakes of it, to give them a pleasant and memorable experience. Food preparation in itself is a fascinating experience involving a combination of science and art, and as such it is never boring.
Jamaica is a great food destination because we have been blessed with an enviable climate, sunshine and adequate rainfall throughout the year for animal husbandry and horticulture. Coupled with the fact that we are an island surrounded by the Caribbean Sea ensures we have a reliable source of fresh fish, seafood, as well as herbs and spices, vegetables, poultry, beef and pork. It is important for us to support our local markets and butchers and purchase our food as close to the source as possible.
We could be even greater if the Government placed a renewed emphasis on supporting our local farmers and artisans, who have to compete on a global scale against other countries whose governments heavily subsidise their agriculture industry. Most hotels and restaurants are forced to purchase imported produce and meats because the local supply is simply not reliable or efficient. I think also that the facilities and instruction at our vocational institutes should be upgraded to the level that obtains at similar places of learning in Canada, the United States and Europe.
Conch Salsa with Root Vegetable Chips
1 cup conch, diced small
1⁄3 cup lime juice
1 tsp minced garlic
5 radishes, diced small
1 ripe tomato, diced small
1⁄4 cup chopped cilantro
1⁄2 Scotch bonnet pepper, diced small
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix well.
Root Vegetable Chips
1⁄2 lb sweet potato
1⁄2 lb dasheen
1⁄2 beet root
1 Irish potato
Vegetable oil for frying
Sea salt to taste
Slice root vegetables thinly, thinner than a coin.
Soak slices in cold, salt water at least 20 minutes.
In a large, heavy frying pan, pour vegetable oil to about 4 inches in depth and heat over mediumhigh heat.
Drain root vegetables and pat dry with paper towels.
When the oil is hot (about 375ºF) carefully place a handful of the dasheen slices in the hot oil and fry until crisp, for about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels or a wire rack to drain.
Repeat until all the root vegetables have been fried, saving the beet root for last.
Place chips in a bowl and sprinkle with sea salt.
Grilled Tenderloin of Beef with Parsley Onion Relish on Chunky Tomato, Eggplant and Mushroom Blatjang and Soft Polenta
Grilled beef tenderloin
12 oz beef tenderloin (trimmed and cut into two 6-oz steaks, about 21⁄2 inches thick)
Extra virgin olive oil, for rubbing
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Light a charcoal grill, heat to medium high.
Let beef stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, rub with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Sear beef on both sides, about 4-5 minutes each side for medium rare, or to your preferred degree of doneness.
Parsley Onion Relish
1 bunch parsley
1 red onion, diced small
1⁄2 tbsp minced Scotch bonnet pepper
1 tbsp minced garlic
1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1⁄2 cup lemon juice
In a medium bowl combine all ingredients and mix well.
Chunky Tomato, Mushroom and Eggplant Blatjang
6 sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 medium eggplant, 1⁄2-inch diced
1 portabello mushroom, 1⁄2-inch diced
2 tbsp salt
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1⁄2 onion diced small
1⁄2 tbsp minced fresh ginger
1⁄2 tbsp minced garlic
1 tbsp Scotch bonnet pepper
2 tbsp raisins
1⁄2 cup plus 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
3 tbsp sugar
1⁄2 tbsp toasted and crushed coriander seeds
Toss diced eggplant and 2 tbsp salt until well mixed, then let stand at room temperature for 1 hour. Squeeze out moisture by gently wringing eggplant in a clean kitchen towel.
In a sauté pan, add half the vegetable oil and heat over high heat until hot but not smoking.
Add eggplant and sear until golden brown for about two minutes. Remove with slotted spoon and set aside.
Add the remaining vegetable oil, heat on high, then add the onions and sauté about 5 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium, add ginger and garlic, cook for 1 minute, then add mushrooms, eggplant and tomatoes, along with the remaining ingredients, and bring the mixture to a simmer.
Reduce heat to low and cook for an additional 5 minutes, stirring constantly.
3 cups water
1⁄4 stick butter
1⁄2 tsp salt
1 cup plus 2 tbsp quick-cooking polenta (cornmeal)
Bring water, butter and salt to boil in heavy saucepan.
Gradually whisk in polenta.
Reduce heat to to medium low, stir constantly until polenta thickens about 5 mins.