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Shamika Haynes, Steffi Sealy, Rico Mayers and Wendell Jacobs all share something in common – they are first-timers in the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) and also silver medal winners. Haynes, a hostess and cashier at the Hilton Hotel, copped silver in the professional category in bartending and the other three in the Culinary Arts Cook Off competition held at the Hilton Hotel last month. Haynes, while no stranger to competitions having won a singing contest before, decided to try her hand at something different. “I entered the [Hilton] in-house bartending competition and won so I said let me try it at NIFCA,” she said, while preparing her drink Blast O Berry. “I named it after the main ingredient, the strawberry. It is tangy and tart but refreshing.” Watched by three judges Haynes was a bundle of nerves; hands shaking. “I don’t know why I’m so nervous,” she said, while the judges kept telling her to take her time. Haynes finished her drink in three out of the allotted 15 minutes. She used Island Oasis strawberry and passion fruit mixes, Mount Gay Eclipse rum, melon liqueur and a squeeze of lime in her cocktail. “It is quite easy to make,” she said. “Just pour and mix to taste to get flavours combined,” she explained, adding she had never timed her self before, doing one practice drink before the competition. One small issue – she couldn’t top the drink with her strawberry “as it was left out of the fridge for too long. It wouldn’t stick in the glass”. In the Cook Off competition, armed with an arsenal of knives and tools and given a time of an hour and ten minutes each, Mayers, Sealy and Jacobs, all chefs at the Savannah Hotel, competed against each other to produce a dish that had all the ingredients of the mystery basket – smoked ham, chicken and flying fish. They also had the use of a communal kitchen that had ingredients they would need. There was chopping and dicing, sautéing and blending as aroma after aroma filled the air along with “oohs” and “aahs” from the eagerly waiting audience, ready to sample the finished dishes. Sealy finished first but was a bit upset because during plating, her chicken broke apart. The 23-year-old, who graduated from the University of Technology in Jamaica, and has worked at the Savannah for the past year, said she did only one practice run. Her dish was Baked Chicken Breast stuffed with ham and cinnamon-scented sweet potato with breadfruit chips, a spicy pineapple dip and deep fried cornmeal-dusted flying fish. “I made up my mind after seeing the basket what I was going to do.” Chef Jacobs, at Savannah for the past 13 months, said all he was concerned about was his timing – “making sure everything was cooked”. The last to finish because of issues with his stove, Jacobs presented Spiced Chicken, breaded flying fish served with sweet potato dumpling, carrot puree and brown sugar glazed ham. Mayers’ dish was Sweet Chicken stuffed with sweet potato, spiced flying fish and ham and olera sauce. Judges Angela Garroway, Henderson Butcher, Glenroy Alleyne and Lisa Small were there to ensure procedures on timing, coordination, skills and organization were followed.