In a country that imports 87 percent of its food, executive chef Keith DeShields is on a mission for change to include more homegrown produce on menus at the various eateries at Cambridge Beaches.
Featuring ingredients hand picked out of the ocean like sea beans and spinach, natural herbs, edible flowers, Bermuda Fennel, bay grapes, and lots of different roots he has concocted a new line of Bermudian inspired dishes to promote under-utilised local produce.
“There’s so much more to Bermuda than what meets the eye, especially on island that imports almost everything from abroad,” said Mr DeShields.
He prepared an immaculate meal presented on a large slab of granite that was not only pleasing to the eye, but also light on the palate as a sample. Baked Bermuda rockfish with a lime infused crust was served as the main course,with sea beans and thinly sliced potatoes, mixed with sea spinach; garnished with grown pearl tomatoes.
For dessert, a deconstructed Dark & Stormy – a French toast styled slice of gingerbread with a spiced rum, white chocolate sauce that was not too sweet, or heavy, and absolutely delicious. The gingerbread is made by Suzanne Smith. Cherlene Williams, who leads the breakfast team also specialises in vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
While he encourages as many Bermudians as possible to enhance their culniary skills, admittedly he said this line of work is not for everybody. “You really have to love what you do,” he said. “It’s a choice and you have to be really passionate about it to go through the whole process because it’s a gruelling schedule with unsociable hours.
“You do have a few individuals who think they want to pursue this, but then the reality hits them, and then they decide they don’t want to do it afterall. And that’s okay because it’s a choice. My schedule is more self-inflicted because I care a lot about what I do,” he added.
Equipped with a Masters Degree in Culinary Arts, he’s been on a schedule for nearly six years working shifts that start at about 8am and often goes straight through to midnight. But for anyone serious about pursuing a career as a professional chef he strongly recommends “”obtaining experience abroad to broaden your horizons”.
He spent 13 years working abroad at various restaurants and hotels in Europe in a culinary career that has taken him to Austria, Switzerland, Germany and Italy. And he insists that experience made him an even better chef in the long run.
“The competition abroad is so fierce that you learn to be the best that you can actually be because of the learning process. It’s not necessarily just about learning how to cook, it’s about how to organise, how to be professional and how to teach people.”
The 45-year-old Bermudian maintains there’s so much more to Bermuda than what meets the eye, especially on island that imports almost everything from abroad.
On any given day he goes out of his way to seek out homegrown leafy greens and natural herbs to feature on daily menus. “A lot of things grow here naturally wild, some can even be considered indigenous to Bermuda,” he said. “I’m working towards menus that 100 percent Bermudian with everything that’s grown here.
“We have wild Bermuda fennel, there’s quite a few more items or different roots that grow here that could be utilised. I’m collecting data which takes up a lot of my free time but it’s something I do passionately, so I don’t see it as work. I also have my own garden at home and I use some of that as well,” he added.
Influenced by his parents, especially his father, this chef realised early in life that he wanted to take up cooking professionally. He attended Bermuda College and worked in local restaurants before setting out to obtain a Masters Degree in Culinary Arts from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York.
But learning “the authenticity of different food items and how its done from the ground up” was key. After learning how to make gnocchi in school he worked in Italy.
“One of the chef’s grandmother came in to show us how to make it her way, now I can take that recipe and broaden it in any direction. I learned how to make incredible gnocchi from an elderly grandmother who really knows what’s up.”
Ultimately he said experience is the best teacher. “Age is a key factor when it comes to experience because the longer you live the more you experience, and you use that experience to master whatever you choose to master.
“Working abroad helped me along the way to become an even better chef because of the learning the process. “That’s why I try to take on as many locals as possible in my kitchens to teach them as much as I possibly can,” said Mr DeShields.
“I’m always hands on, I’m taking the product to another level and I want to see that continue. Everybody who works with me on my team knows I’m there front and centre for them.”
By Ceola Wilson