Chef Raoul Sealey with his key lime cheesecake meringue peach coulis with shortbread biscuit. (GP)
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THERE WAS NO doubt in Raoul Sealey’s mind that he wanted to be a pastry chef. And it didn’t bother him that he was one of three boys in his food and nutrition class at Christ Church Foundation.
He balanced that out with actively being in extracurricular activities such as being on the school’s swim team, president of the Peace Ambassadors, vice-president of Youth Crime Arm, member of the pop band and school choir and deputy head boy.
He was tantalised into the kitchen from an early age by the tempting smells coming from the oven as his mum baked all the delicacies.
“I leaned towards baking as I loved seeing the texture and tasting the finished products.”
The former student of Charles F. Broome realised that with his CXC subjects and his love for baking, he should apply to PomMarine, the Hospitality Institute of the Barbados Community College. He was accepted on his first application.
He completed the two years associate degree in culinary art, covering the basics in culinary skills, knife skills, and there was a baking class teaching him creaming methods, fondants and textures and also advanced classes teaching kitchen management.
He then interned for about a month at the Crane Hotel, where he was a line cook, getting his skills up to standard as he learnt more hands on stuff. Next was two months at Tapas Restaurant, then he was off to do his bachelor’s in culinary management degree at Lincoln Culinary Institute (LCI) in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“This was so much different from PomMarine. It was a lot of bookwork, but I offset that with a minor in international baking and pastry.”
It was a two-year programme, and at the end of it Raoul was looking forward to coming back home to seek work and be with his family. But China came a-calling.
One of his tutors at LCI was a consultant for a newly opened restaurant in China and his specialty was food, not pastry and he wanted someone to assist with pastry.
He asked Raoul if he was interested.
Raoul didn’t hesitate in saying yes.
“I saw it as a great opportunity to learn about a culture and their food and to also improve on my skills. The chef was already in China laying the groundwork and all I had to do was get there and everything would be set and ready for me.
“I told my mum and dad I was going, not really asking. School ended last September and I went off to China in October.”
Raoul was so excited and his biggest fear was the language and the trip there.
“My biggest fear is airports. I never want to get left behind off a flight. I want a smooth process.”
Raoul came back to Barbados to get his paperwork processed and flew from home to Canada (five hours), then from there to Beijing (15 hours) and then to Taiyan (an hour).
“It [Taiyan] was a small city in the province Shanxi . . . . More to the north of China. It was very cold in October. There was an apartment all set up for me. I had a day to rest then went the next day on a tour of the restaurant and the following day it was straight to work.”
Raoul adjusted pretty quickly to the 12-hour time difference and after three weeks settled down to making his pastry concoctions.
At the restaurant there was the executive chef (his American tutor from LCI), two sous chefs (culinary), himself as junior sous chef (where he managed the pastry section and three other pastry chefs), cold kitchen with two people and six other line cooks.
“Apart from the executive chef and myself as the only Bajan, everyone else was Chinese, so the language was really a challenge. What helped was a female translator. Every day, wherever we went, she went.”
The restaurant was named Canadian Café, seating 107 and open Sunday to Sunday.
“I had two shifts of 8 a.m. till 2:30 p.m. A break where the restaurant was closed and then reopened from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. My role was to bring in new ideas for the dessert menu. It was a western restaurant so I had to ensure that the standards were observed. I had to be innovative.”
Raoul spilled the tea on how he created a red velvet cake, non-traditional style.
“Red dye isn’t allowed in China so I had to come up with a way to get the red in the red velvet. So I had to think quickly. Fruit was also integral in dessert. They like very little sweet, but lots of fruits.”
Raoul is proud of implementing a peach panna cotta, a black forest trifle and a mocha mousse with carmelised hazelnut.
“I had some recipes and tweaked them. The plain panna cotta I did a trial and error with the peach and it worked. In the downtime was when I could work on my ideas and I had to run them by the general manager, the assistant general manager and twice the owners.”
A month into being there Raoul got a baptism by fire.
The executive chef left. And no one was hired as his replacement.
Raoul and the two sous chefs were thrown into managing the kitchen.
“I was one of the youngest. When I went there I was 20 years old . . . . I turned 21 in November. So basically the three of us took on all the responsibilities he had.”
And they were a lot.
“We had to deal with pricing and getting supplies and payroll and menus and so on. It was very, very stressful but what it did was made me move out of my comfort zone. I became more independent and it challenged me.”
Working with one off day a week, Raoul used the days to improve his skills. He realised that he could build off that experience of being in charge of a kitchen.
Raoul returned to Florida for his graduation ceremony in January of this year. He was supposed to fly back to China for work after. But that hit a snag.
“I was waiting in Florida, trying to get my visa sorted out. I came back to Barbados in February, still working on the visa issues. It was roadblock after roadblock, issues after issues.”
The work visa was not renewed. Raoul was disappointed.
“I said okay . . . . Seems I am not going to get back to China. I was very disappointed as I had gained family. The restaurant wanted me to come back. I was teaching them English and they were teaching me Chinese.”
Raoul said he is happy to be back home, his mum less so.
“She said her food bill has doubled. Now I am back home I experiment and I cook a lot for them and when I go to the supermarket I pick up high hand stuff so she always complains,” he said, laughing loudly, adding he has an older brother who is a microbiologist at Barbados Bottling Company.
But behind every dark cloud there’s a silver lining. Raoul has started a new job at the newly opened The Clay Oven on the West Coast as a sous chef.
Raoul says he is ready to introduce some new items to the menu and his favourite ingredient to work with is heavy cream [“I can use this in so many different forms to create so much”].
“I also have a love for ice cream, crème brulée and pastries that will show on the menu. Sous chef is a leadership position so I can now expand my skills and teach others and also be taught.
“I want to be the best leader I can be. I am young and I have much to learn.”