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Caroline’s success story


Caroline’s success story

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Standing in the kitchen preparing a cocktail dish of luncheon meat bites, Caroline Mars-Yearwood exclaims, “I love cooking nice food.”

There is no mistaking how big a passion cooking is for the woman adjudged Best Bajan Cook in last year’s National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) culinary competition.

It was the first time the Best Bajan Cook category was being introduced into the NIFCA programme and there were 40 entrants and Mars-Yearwood made it all the way to the final stage beating out the other 11 finalists with her Bajan dish of corned beef and white rice.

An ordinary dish some might think, but by the time  Mars-Yearwood had added her special touch, setting off the dish with plantain specially prepared and presented, the judges were won over and the everyday dish cooked in many a Bajan home earned her the coveted Enid Maxwell Award Of Excellence and a trip to New York.

It was a delicious victory for Mars-Yearwood who had been eyeing a big prize for her culinary skills for some time.

Every year other entrants in the NIFCA culinary arts competition submit their entries fully aware of what they will be up against once the word goes out that Mars-Yearwood will be participating. She won bronze awards for the first two years she entered, but every year since then, “I was hitting gold and top awards”.

There is no stopping the former Barbados Defence Force (BDF) soldier who started cooking from around age 18 as a recruit: “Because I did not have the qualifications to be a nurse or to work in the office, they put me into the kitchen and I was hurt because at that time I said to myself, ‘Why put me to get a lot of burns?’ But it paid off big dividends.”

One of the dividends is  her current job as a food service supervisor in the Ministry of Health, assigned as the second in charge of the kitchen at the St Philip District Hospital.

She joined the Barbados Regiment in 1976, was one of the first female soldiers to move from the Regiment to the Defence Force and regards that initial assignment to the BDF’s kitchen as the opportunity to hone her culinary skills and advance.

“It was hard, but as a soldier you had to be much disciplined. You had to do whatever the officer says and I said, “Lord, help me to gain these qualifications and move up in the ranks.”

“Going in as a recruit cook I worked my way up by doing courses at the Barbados Hotel School at the time, gaining a lot of qualifications and by the time I came out of the BDF I was in charge of the other ranks’ kitchen.”

She went from BDF recruit to private, lance corporal and then corporal, finally leaving as a substantive sergeant, the rank she continues to hold as a civilian reserve. 

“There are active reserves, but I am not one of those,” Mars-Yearwood explains. She is one of those former soldiers eligible for call-up for reserve duty if the situation requires it and she tells you she is always prepared in the event of that call. “I was a good markswoman and I can still shoot very well,” she declares.

She swept the awards last year – Best Bajan Cook; Best Booth; People’s Choice Award for her booth and the Mildeane Massiah Award, taking home 18 certificates and awards.

The NIFCA Historic Award for a booth was introduced in 2012, but was not won for two years until last year when she pulled it off with her displays, A Tribute To The Royal Barbados Police Force Band’s 125 Years and A Tribute To The Barbados Landship’s 150th Year.

Mars-Yearwood has always been bold in her endeavours, a characteristic that works for her each time. She is not timid to seek advice and guidance from the experts. She conceptualises the ideas, but she acknowledges in the execution, expertise beyond her ability is helpful to the outcome. As a chef advised her, “Think outside the box.”

But when it comes to a challenge there is a tugging at Mars-Yearwood’s adventure strings. “I like a challenge when it comes to cooking,” says the woman who around age 16 was one of the first women in Barbados to be a competitive cyclist.

Since she has won many a prize for her wine (gold) and preserves, her ambition now is to go into wine-making on a full time basis. She is excited that she has identified a market for her tamarind balls and preserves.

This is another big year for NIFCA competition and Mars-Yearwood’s plans for her booth and her dishes are already in train and she has her sights set on the highest NIFCA Culinary Arts competition award.

Beyond NIFCA there is the intention to hit the books once more in her quest to become “a nutrition officer or a dietitian”.

“Everybody can cook but it is the presentation and the feedback you get from people who eat your food,” Mars-Yearwood said as she set her appealing platter of Bajan-style hors d’oeuvres down on the table.