Micheala Poleon’s Recipe For Success

Charting a successful course in the all-important tourism sector in Saint Lucia is something that thousands of Saint Lucians have embarked on over the nearly five decades since the island embraced the sector. Today, many continue to make invaluable contributions to the sector globally.
Twenty-one-year-old Micheala Poleon is among those who seem destined to make their mark in the industry. For the past five years, the Barnard Hill, Castries resident has been sharpening her culinary skills as she sets her eyes and hopes on gastronomical greatness.
In 2016, while she was a sixteen-year-old student at Ciceron Secondary School, Micheala began training in the Kitchen Department at Sandals Halcyon for a cooking competition. She subsequently did a three-month apprenticeship programme at Royalton Saint Lucia Resort & Spa.
That same year, Micheala and another student from her school, Megan Felicien, won the SLHTA Chefs in Schools Cook-Off Competition. The event catered for a small studio audience made up of students, teachers and parents who came out to cheer and show support for their respective culinary teams.
The SLHTA Chefs in Schools Competition is an annual cooking event which targets Food and Nutrition students from Forms 3 to 5 who are passionate about cooking and desirous of a career in Culinary Arts.
After graduating from secondary school in 2017, Micheala applied to Sir Arthur Lewis Community College (SALCC) to advance her studies, but, limited on finances, she was instead forced to take up an apprenticeship stint at Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort in February 2018, staying there for two years.
After leaving Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort, Micheala started working at Big Chef Steakhouse in Rodney Bay, but was laid off when the COVID-19 pandemic began soon after that. She would later gain employment at nearby Matthew’s Restaurant in September 2020, staying there for four months. Since December 2020, Micheala has been employed at Mystique Royal St. Lucia.
Throughout the past five years, Micheala’s adjustment to the kitchen setting at the various restaurants and hotels have been both personal and professional achievements for which she is increasingly proud.
“I love cooking and the positive feedback I get from the guests is always encouraging,” she says. “The tourism industry allows me to prove my culinary skills, so I’m thankful for that. There are always some bumps along the way, but I have always learned to keep pushing and getting back up.”
While at Ciceron Secondary School, Micheala did Food & Nutrition, scoring an impressive Grade 2 in the subject at the CSEC Exams in her final year. She believes that the route to success lies in not becoming complacent, but through consistent hard work. “Training is very important in this industry, especially in the Kitchen Department,” she noted.
“Aside from avoiding personal injury, you must be also able to prepare food properly by following the safety guidelines.” Chefs she admires include Chef Vernance Dore – who continues to be her mentor — and Chef Odeen Martin. Growing up, she also learned many culinary skills from her grandmother whom she would often accompany in the kitchen to cook creole dishes.
With nearly 15,000 people employed directly in the local tourism sector, and an estimated 55,000 people employed indirectly, tourism undoubtedly continues to be the main driver of Saint Lucia’s economy. Tourism is now the island’s biggest industry and main source of employment, income and foreign exchange, accounting for 65% of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Internal travel and tourism consumption for Saint Lucia has been steadily increasing over the past decade. Whereas the Caribbean island generated almost US$771 million from internal tourism consumption in 2010, this industry amounted to about US$1.129 billion nearly 10 years later. Micheala is mindful of the role she plays in the sector and how it benefits her in return.
“Without the hospitality sector, there would hardly be any business in Saint Lucia,” Micheala admits. “In fact, it’s the island’s main economic sector. Because of the hospitality sector, I’m able to not only have a job that I enjoy, but also able to help my family out with living expenses.”
One of Micheala’s dreams is to travel the world and work in order to realize greater achievements for her country. She took part in the national competition in preparation for Taste of the Caribbean in 2019, placing third in the Junior Chef category. Representing Team Saint Lucia at the annual competition in Miami, Florida, would be a major achievement, she said.
While many young chefs learn their culinary chops in almost similar fashion as did Micheala, many go on to carve out impressive careers in their craft, including becoming sous chefs. Some even open their own restaurants and pay it forward by training new chefs. However, Micheala advises future chefs to be mindful about the demanding nature of the job. “Being a chef is both exciting and tough. You must be able to work under pressure because time is not always on your side when people are waiting for their food to be prepared. Stay focused on your goal and volunteer recipes to your team when necessary,” Micheala explained.
So just what favourite dish does this future top chef enjoy preparing? Well, as Micheala tells it, a job well done is the best recipe. “I really don’t have a favourite dish,” Micheala says. “Once the food is prepared as expected and the taste is great, that’s a joy for me.”
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