Home for Michael was right in the middle of the culinary action virtually from the get-go. “My dad was a general manager at one of the local hotels,” he says. “I remember running around the kitchens as a kid curious about what was bubbling in the pots. The cooks would always let me taste. I also learned from my mom just watching her in the kitchen. I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to be a chef.”
And a CIA education was the path he chose to get there. Michael graduated with an associate degree in Culinary Arts in 2000 and a bachelor’s degree in Culinary Arts Management in ’02. “I think both programs go hand-in-hand. You really shouldn’t do one without the other. I think you can never have too much education,” comments Michael. “Having the two degrees put me above and beyond other applicants when applying for jobs.”
Michael carefully chose increasingly challenging positions while building his career. His first job post-graduation was sous chef at the Wayside Inn Restaurant in Vero Beach, FL followed by a job as a catering chef at a Marriott resort. “I went from a mom and pop restaurant doing 30 covers a night to cooking for 300 people,” Michael says. “It was a huge difference going to the corporate world. The prep was bigger, sanitation was key, and the use of large-scale equipment came into play. It was a great learning experience.”
Looking back on his time on campus, Michael says, “the CIA really gave me a great all-around education. The knife skills course, fish and meat fabrication, the wine course, my internship in the Napa Valley, and working in the restaurants on campus was an amazing experience—all those little things community colleges and regional cooking schools just don’t provide to their students. The CIA offers that and more.”
In an effort to gain more experience in all facets of the restaurant business, Michael decided it was time to work the front-of-house and, for a real change of pace, chose quick-service restaurants as his next venture. “I managed Taco Bell and Long John Silver restaurants for the YUM Corporation doing scheduling, purchasing, human resources, employee and customer relations, hiring, and training. Every day was a new experience and I relied heavily on what I learned in the bachelor’s program to do my job.”
Confident in his management skills, Michael then decided to reach for the stars. “I was the manager for the largest restaurant at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. I was in charge of 33 or so people and, during our busy season, we would do 3,000 covers a week,” says Michael. “It was amazing meeting all the remaining astronauts who visited the moon, including the team from Apollo 13. But eventually I missed the kitchen.”
While on vacation visiting family and friends at home on Nevis, Michael had an opportunity to dine at Oualie Beach Resort and met the owner. “He said he was looking for an executive chef,” he recalls. “It seemed almost too good to be true. That was in August 2010. By November I was home. I met my then-girlfriend while working in Florida and she moved with me to Nevis. We were married in June 2011.”
Michael is happily installed in his new kitchen and taking advantage of local culinary competitions. He won the Nevis Agricultural Food Fair cake competition in July 2011 and the St. Kitts and Nevis Tourism Association Fifth Annual Chef of the Year 2011 competition in December.
“It’s wonderful to be back home after 16 years in the States. I have the diverse bounty of the island at my fingertips. The fresh local seafood is amazing, especially the lobsters and red snappers. We have chicken, beef, and pork provided by local purveyors and a huge hydroponic farm that supplies the whole island with fresh vegetables, herbs, and lettuces.”
In the future, Michael would like to open something on his own like a bistro, café, or dessert shop to satisfy his sweet tooth. In the meantime, his family is surely satisfied that the island breezes lured this native son home.