veranda grand cayman

Chef Sherene Hutchinson of Veranda restaurant at Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort. (Photo: Nicolas Franco)

Grand Cayman

How Chef Sherene Hutchinson Innovates Grand Cayman Cuisine

Chef Sherene Hutchinson of Veranda at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort tapped into her passion for food at an early age — the award-winning chef started whipping up culinary concoctions when she was just a kid growing up in Jamaica.

“The first thing I ever made for myself when I was 7 years old was spaghetti, corned beef and ketchup. To me, it was the most amazing thing to eat,” laughs Hutchinson as she talks about her early culinary risks.

Years later, a willingness to experiment with unusual flavors and secret ingredients is helping Hutchinson make a name for herself in the industry. She was recently promoted to the Specialty Chef at the oceanfront restaurant on Seven Mile Beach. The role allows her to plan menus while always looking for new ways to put a spin on old standbys.

(Photo: Nicolas Franco)

It was this kind of creative thinking that helped Hutchinson win Marriott International’s 2018 Masters of the Craft competition. This annual food and beverage event invites more than 2,200 chefs and bartenders from 280 Marriott International properties around the world to pit their talents against one another in challenges incorporating local specialities and surprise ingredients.

Chef Hutchinson was initially hesitant to enter the competition, but with a bit of encouragement from her mentor and coworker, Chef Andres Davila, she put her skills to the test through multiple rounds of competition.

She won over the judges in the final round with a dish combining lemon pan-seared salmon with a roasted pumpkin puree, baby zucchini and gremolata.

These days, when she’s not running Veranda, she serves as a mentor to her staff and Masters of the Craft competitors. When asked what advice she offers her mentees, she quickly replies, “Your food is a display of your soul.”

Hutchinson sat down with Marriott Bonvoy Traveler to share her thoughts on Caribbean cooking, mentoring and how those roles have become intertwined.

[NOTE: This interview was edited for clarity and brevity.]

Let’s talk about food. What inspires you about the local cuisine in Grand Cayman?

Grand Cayman separates itself from the other Caribbean islands in terms of innovation. There are so many chefs from all over the world here, making it a good place to learn and a good place to work. The level of menus and cooking styles are completely different. We always try to utilize local ingredients.

(Photo: Evan Dion)

Our jerk chicken is very popular. We use a blackened jerk seasoning and serve it alongside a yucca and plantain gratin. We do a lot with the plantain — plantain relish, plantain vinegar. We are making traditional dishes but always doing something just a little different.

Veranda is a beach fish grill. Tell us about how the food you serve there reflects your Caribbean roots.

We tend to use local fish but sometimes get hake fish, which is not local but one of my favorites. I’ll serve it with a callaloo risotto. Callaloo is a Jamaican leafy green, like a cross between spinach and arugula with a nice, heavy, green, grassy taste. It is so good with a risotto. I’ll top that off with local tomatoes and sugar snap peas and orange zest and juice.

Another favorite is scallops. The scallop looks like the easiest thing to make, but it’s something that you can so easily overcook or undercook. That for me is a good challenge. I would prepare scallops with a sweet potato that is julienned and callaloo.

(Photo: Nicolas Franco)

Tell us about the changes you’ve experienced in your career since winning Masters of the Craft.

I do a lot of traveling on task forces [Editor’s note: When we caught up with Hutchinson, she was assisting at the Marriott Cancun Resort in Cancun, Mexico]. On a task force, you go into the hotel and help with large functions and offer assistance with the food and ideas. I’m here to offer support, but I learn a lot, too.

I’ve learned a lot from actually making the food here in [Mexico], like the guacamole. When we make Mexican food in Grand Cayman, we make Americanized Mexican food. Here, they have a passion when they make it, and it’s a tradition that’s full of love.

Has winning the competition changed the way you cook or approach working in the kitchen?

I get my chefs and line cooks involved more because I believe that when they are part of creating something you are putting out for a guest, they display more passion for it. When you get everyone involved in the menu, you get a better result. It should never be just your ideas.

And winning has reminded me that it’s always more about outcome in the flavor and not necessarily about how pretty a dish looks. For me, flavors are everything.

How does it feel to be in the mentor role this year as opposed to competing in Masters of the Craft?

It’s good because I know where I was in the beginning of the competition. I was scared. I didn’t know if I even wanted to do a cooking competition. It was actually my mentor who told me, “If you don’t try it, you’ll never know if you’ll like it or not.” So I decided to give it a try.

I’m good at cooking, I know my flavors, but I was still hesitant. And now to be a mentor and encouraging someone to try something new is better than anything I could ask for.