There’s a saying that goes: “Wherever you go in the world, you’re sure to find a Bajan.”
Visit Dantanna’s Restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia. and there is one who is large and in charge. Monique Barrow is the executive chef at the restaurant, which is located in one of the busiest parts of the state.
“It’s in the midst of everything downtown. We have occupancy of up to 350 to 500 people on our busiest days. We get a lot of the traffic from downtown. I’ve been the executive chef there for a year and it’s been going good,” she said.
Barrow said while the top post was challenging at first, she powered through and got much support from others at the restaurant.
“The role of executive chef is completely different from a sous chef’s. In my role you really have to lead. It was also tough because it was a fully male-dominated kitchen. I was the first female black manager they had. And then I was from the islands. They didn’t give me a hard time though. The guys were very receptive to my being there, and I was very open to them helping me learn the routine for that location,” she explained.
Being from the Caribbean helps when it comes to taste and flavour for the menu.
“The restaurant has its own menus, some of which I came up with. But we do have a Caribbean influence. We have jerk wings and we use scotch bonnet pepper and some of our Bajan seasoning is in there . . . complementing the cheese like how we do in our macaroni pie. All those little things help to add to it. Whatever I can get my hands on . . . I use to bring out my Caribbean influence,” she added.
But this wasn’t the first time Chef Monique was in the spotlight. A couple years ago, she graced the stage of the popular television cooking show Chopped on Food Network.
The St Joseph-born-and-bred said it was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“It was a good experience. I wish it could have been better. My grandfather was sick around that time, so my mind wasn’t really focussed as it should have been on the competition. Food Network had reached out to me, and everyone was telling me to go do it. I made it to the first round. I think I could have done better though. They reached out to me to come back, and I’ve grown in many areas, but I don’t have the time right now; but hopefully the opportunity presents itself again,” she told EASY magazine.
Prior to that, Chef Mo, as she is affectionately called, was spreading her wings across the United States after completing her Bachelor’s degree at Le Cordon Bleu.
“I’ve been going to school and working in the US for close to ten years now. I came up here to further my studies in college at I graduated in 2012 with honours. Then I started doing internships at different restaurants. That’s how I got my break from a chef called Ian Windslane.
“He came to the school scouting for talent to help out in his restaurant, a new concept that he was venturing into. I was one that he had chosen. I was his lead line cook, and wherever he went he took me. I was working under him for four or five years and then we decided to go our separate ways. Everyone knew me as being associated with him and we wanted me to make my own name so I ventured out. But we are still very good friends to this day,” she explained.
To say that the 31-year-old is living her dream is an understatement.
The mother of a three-year-old daughter Malia, said from the time she was in secondary school she had dreams of becoming a chef. But being an international chef has surpassed her expectations.
“It was always a huge dream of mine to become an international chef. From the time I was going to school at Alleyne. My teachers always knew I wanted to be a chef and I told them I will become one. I just followed through with it. Any of my classmates could tell you, I was in home economics day in and day out . . . . That’s all I ever wanted to do,” she said, the excitement clear in her voice as we chatted via social media. She added her grandfather was a farmer and she loved to see how he used his produce in the kitchen.
In addition to continuing to improve, Chef Mo said she was also working on a few personal projects.
“I am working with one of the retired Barbados consuls Dr Edward Layne, and his wife and a few others. We are trying to work on a website called My Preventive Health. Back in Barbados, my sister Marissa is a pastry chef at Waves. We are working on a catering concept, along with one of my closest friends,” Monique revealed.
Speaking of home, Monique said she couldn’t wait to take her annual trip later this year.
“I usually come down for Crop Over, but this year it was a bit busy here. It’s not usually this busy, but for some reason it was. Fingers crossed, next month I will be coming down to visit my mum for her birthday. I try to come once a year and my mum misses her granddaughter so I have to come. My daughter loves the beach as well,” she added.
Monique had some timely advice for young people, urging them to always follow their dreams.
“For young people in Barbados, stay focused. Whatever you’re trying to achieve, stick to it and don’t give up. Go for it. Follow your dreams and don’t let anyone deter you from them.” (DB)