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Michelle makes her mark

Toni Yarde

Michelle makes her mark

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Had she pursued her childhood dream, Michelle Maloney would have been called to the bar. She had her sights set on performing the duties of a prosecutor but, as fate would have it, the course of her destiny changed when she realised she had a greater passion for something other than engaging in legal battles. That something is preparing food.
Today, the executive chef has no regrets about the decision she made that drastically altered her career path.
“I had a focus for law,” she said. “I like law. I liked the concept of standing up in court and passionately arguing your point. I actually started my path to becoming a lawyer by studying at Barbados Community College (BCC), but then later switched to hospitality.”
In 1998, she was among the first set of students to be enrolled in the BCC’s hospitality programme at Hotel PomMarine.
“I always had a passion for food. I always had a passion for cooking even from my days at school. I love marrying flavours. My first main dish I made at home for a large family gathering was lasagna,” she said with a broad smile.
Her tutors at PomMarine were very impressed with her performance in class and set a curriculum for Michelle that was different to what the others in the class did. She was always quick to accurately complete all the dishes that were assigned for her to do.
“I remember my pastry teacher Mr Rice would say: ‘Michelle you are a quick study’. Then there was Mr Trotman who once said: ‘You are a real foodie. You will do very well in this job if you keep your head on’.”
After the one-year course, the former Alleyne School student landed her first job as chef at the plush and sprawling Sam Lord’s Castle in 1999.
“To get this job I had to prepare a four course meal,” she said. “I also had to do a prep list. I’ll admit I was a bit overwhelmed. I had to prepare cheese sauce at 40 gallons, salad dressing also at 40 gallons. Peel four bags of potatoes. I did my best but was doubtful I was successful.”
However, the manager called her in the next morning.
“As I walked to his office I thought to myself: ‘This is it now. There is no way I am getting this job’. But to my surprise he said to me I had done way better than some of the men who were twice my size and way more experienced than I was. I was so elated.”
But Michelle’s challenges did not end when she passed the test for entry: “The restaurant I worked at catered to 365 guests on Tuesday and Thursday nights. I was fresh out of college at one of the island’s most renowned hotels. I was in a kitchen with all men. There was a level of discomfort and I knew I had to prove myself.”
Michelle said she worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot to show her worth throughout the years. She has worked at The Crane, Coral Sands, Sandy Bank, Dover, Bagatelle, Josef’s, Bouganvillea and Discovery Bay hotels where she gradually moved through the ranks. She was chef, a sous chef, an executive sous chef, head chef till she was reached the top as executive chef at age 30.
The entrepreneur is now among a very shortlist of women who hold that title in Barbados.
It was her two years as executive sous chef at The Crane Hotel that brought her managerial skills to the fore. She had responsibility for operating four restaurants at The Crane.
“It was good experience. It taught me to manage my time better. It taught me I could operate four restaurants simultaneously with minimum complications.”
Mr [Michael] Phillips [my boss at The Crane] had faith in my ability,” Michelle said.
“I literally had to cut costs and restructure the kitchens there, write new menus, do standardised recipes, teach them how to best store food. I had to face the challenge of changing the culture. I showed staff how we could do it differently and still come up with the desired results.”
In 2008, the 36-year-old won the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Culinary Arts. She is recipient of the WIBISCO Founder’s Award. She has won 30 NIFCA awards; gold, silver and in the culinary arts division. She also received on an award for great desserts and great desserts displays.
Michelle has added a course or programme to her resume every year in order to make herself relevant and to stay on top of her career.
“I’ve done a course on wine pairing. I did a supervisory course and I’m hoping to do hotel management in the near future.
Her ultimate dream is to down her chef clothes one day and manage a hotel in a food and beverage capacity.
“This job is very time-consuming. When I was at Discovery Bay, I worked the hours required. I was called out at any time. So with a schedule like that it was hard to work and study. Some nights I fell asleep with the books in front of me.”
Her average work day started at 6:30 a.m. and ended 10:30 at night. On the odd occasion she gets an off day that is spent relaxing with her husband Brian Smart.
She said her husband has been a tower of strength and support as she pursued her career.
“He is a very understanding and supportive man. From cleaning the dishes to doing laundry, to even waiting on me hand and foot. He knows I have it hard some days and he is there for me especially emotionally. He says to me: ‘Michelle if it doesn’t break you, it will make you. Hang in there’.”
The executive chef has recently started up two businesses of her own. Heading Mira’s Catering and Smart Meats, Michelle now gets to put her own flair into the dishes that she offers since she has ultimate control.
Her specialty dish is warm pickled breadfruit, a stuffed pork tender loin, and a gooseberry sauce. Her go-to ingredients are herbs: “the thyme, chives, parsley, marjoram, spice, rosemary, basil and mint.”
“I love local. I love that I can get up on Friday or Saturday mornings and walk through the market and get our herbs. Walk around and talk to the vendors. You walk, you talk, you smell and you touch. I believe in local farmers. I prefer the local products,” she said.
When asked what she loves most about the job she does, she replied: “It feels excellent being and saying that I am an executive chef. There aren’t many females in Barbados who have reached this level. It’s a major accomplishment for me.
“But, sometimes you still get this gender thing where people believe it’s a man’s job but I am slowly overcoming that. Each day is a different challenge. Each day I’m outing fires, yet I live to see the beautiful result of a very hard day’s work.”