How Two Young Culinary Talents Won Glory for St. Lucia

Karina Abraham and Cheyenne Hippolyte, the two Soufriere Secondary School culinary students who catapulted St. Lucia into the limelight following their impressive win at the recent Caribbean Junior Duelling Challenge in Barbados, continue to receive praises from their sponsor, the St. Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association, and from members of the public and their alma mater.

The excitement surrounding their performance underscores the importance and magnitude of their victory, and brings into sharp focus the perseverance and courage of two St. Lucian youths who came up against the most daunting culinary challenges they’ve ever experienced, yet were able to emerge victorious by sheer willpower and determination and a fervent belief in themselves. Their achievements also put the Chefs in Schools program in the spotlight, an SLHTA initiative which is helping to develop the next generation of St. Lucian chefs and is funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund.

Nashanka Henry, a culinary arts teacher at the Soufriere Comprehensive Secondary School, was part of the delegation that accompanied Karina Abraham and Cheyenne Hippolyte during their stay in Barbados for the Junior Duelling Challenge. Throughout their studies over the past year she has been at their side, motivating and encouraging them, right on up to the final of this year’s Chefs in Schools competition held in June, which Karina and Cheyenne won decisively before moving on to compete in Barbados.

While the two girls’ success has wowed many, Henry says it came as no surprise to her and she’d been quite confident that they would deliver.

“From the outset when I had them in my class for the first time, the first assignment I gave them was to prepare any dish they wished and these two girls stood out. When the time came to select students to represent the school at the local leg of the Chefs in Schools competition, it was an easy decision. We went to Ciceron Secondary [for the final] and they delivered, and continued to deliver in Barbados. You saw the consistency all the way through – from the school, to the local competition, all the way to Barbados,” said Henry.

She said early in the competition it had become evident that the St. Lucian duo were viewed as a force to be reckoned with.  

“They dominated all the way. In the first round, which was the signature dish – the national dish – they placed second, next to Trinidad. In the first mystery basket round, they were in the top position. By that point they were the top team because what happens in Barbados is that they calculate the scores from the signature dish and the first mystery basket. So by the time these two competitions were over, they were leading. They went into the finals leading and maintained that lead.  

Henry confirmed what was pretty much the general consensus among Karina and Cheyenne’s fans and admirers, namely one of their greatest strengths was their consistency, which they maintained throughout the competition.

“Normally with young girls, they can get distracted during such competitions. I have had other teams that got a bit distracted and because of that they could not bring the championship home. Despite their age, Karina and Cheyenne remained focussed. Because of their consistency they never fell short. We planned our strategy every night before going to bed. There was no time for anything else. They built on what they had started and continued, and that blew the judges away!”

St. Lucia has long dominated at the Caribbean Junior Duelling competition. Repeated wins by St. Lucian teams over the years, coupled with their culinary prowess and exceptional creative skills have been acknowledged by the competition organizers in Barbados and competitors from other participating islands. This year it was no different, said Henry.

”The Bajans were so proud of the St. Lucian team, they supported them all the way. St. Lucia has that reputation. Every time we go to Barbados, they look forward to our food and they’re content with losing to us because they know that we always come to deliver. I respect them for that. They know that they can’t match our flavours. Our flavours are just unique and, as St Lucians, we need to be proud of what we have. We need to be proud of our green fig and salt fish. St. Lucia received an award for ‘Creative Use of an Indigenous Product,’ which was the salt fish. The team did a salt fish and dasheene rusty, which involves grating the dasheene and adding egg, salt fish, a little flour and then you fry it up nicely. This is what we presented with flavour and the judges were blown away!” said Henry. She also applauded the SLHTA for supporting the development of culinary arts in St. Lucia’s education system and for continuing to fund the Chefs in Schools program.

First launched in 2014, the SLHTA Chefs in Schools Cook-Off Competition is designed to help secondary school students with a keen interest in the culinary arts develop their skills. It also encourages them to use more local ingredients in the preparation of healthy meals.

SLHTA CEO, Roderick Cherry joined in congratulating Karina and Cheyenne for bringing the Caribbean Junior Duelling trophy home to St. Lucia, and reaffirmed the SLHTA’s commitment to maintaining its support for the island’s young up-and-coming chefs.

“The enthusiasm and passion generated among the team members who represent St. Lucia at regional and international competitions make it an extremely valuable and empowering experience for them. The SLHTA is proud to give many of them the opportunity to show their regional counterparts what they’re capable of, and the awesome talents that St. Lucia produces. It’s a pleasure to support gifted young culinarians like Karina and Cheyenne and to help lay the groundwork for St. Lucia to ultimately become a world-renowned culinary destination, where our local chefs can showcase the fantastic dishes and flavours St. Lucia has to offer, and which are unique and indigenous to our island.” said Roderick.

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