Tue | Oct 16, 2018

Pan champions -The people behind the stories

Published:Thursday | October 19, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Meisha Wright
Kareen Johnson
Shermaine Nelson
Eric Beaver

The final Regional for PAN 2017 took place at the Folly Oval in Portland recently, and 14 lucky pan vendors were put through to the grand finals that takes place in Half-Way Tree on October 29.

This week, we look at a few of the lucky winners who have a shot at the ultimate prize - PAN CHAMPION!

Three-week search for ingredients reaps success

Meisha Wright from Braeton Phase 1 in Portmore, St Catherine, was determined to win when she entered PAN 2017 Regional 2. It took her three weeks to track down the natural herbs and a secret ingredient in Linstead, with the aim to create her winning chicken.

"I just went all natural. My grandmother used natural herbs and a secret ingredient which took me three weeks to find. And, trust me, it really made a difference in the jerk chicken," Wright shared with Food.

Wright placed second for the parish of St Catherine, and secured a spot in the grand finals.

"I entered last year and I didn't place at the parish level, so I came back this year with the intention not to come back again," she joked.

She continued, "The experience was a bit intense because of the rain. It almost dampened my spirits because I came to win."

Going into the finals, Wright says she has a plan and is well prepared to win.

The 37-year-old mother of four says the prize money would come in handy for her to start a business.

"Oh my God, I have dreamt of owning my own restaurant and grill, along with a juice bar. That's what I would do if I win."

Wright has been involved in pan chicken since she was a teenager. She currently sells pan chicken by Ken's Wildflower Lounge in Portmore.

Kareen Johnson dreams of becoming a chef

Kareen Johnson was not sure what she wanted to do as a profession. Five years ago, with only $1,000 in her pocket, she decided to purchase chicken necks, backs, and liver to start a pan chicken business.

"I didn't know what I wanted to do, but food had always been a part of me. My family's background is in food - my uncle was a chef at the Half Moon Hotel, my brother was a chef, and I really like to create different dishes," Johnson shared.

Since then, she has been doing pan chicken at functions and community events. Her desire to enhance her skills was what made her decide to enter PAN 2017 Regional 2 in Portland.

"It was my first time entering, and I really wanted to enhance my skills. The experience was good despite the rain. I wish I could do it every day," she joked.

Johnson finished in second place for the parish of St Mary, and is excited for the finals. "Right now, I am preparing mentally and physically. I am putting everything into it to bring on my 'A' game."

Currently studying at the University of the West Indies, Johnson has plans for the prize money if she wins. "The prize money will help me to finish up my studies at UWI. I really want to become an executive chef," shared the White Hall resident.

Shermaine Nelson wants to complete her education

Shermaine Nelson, who finished in second place for Kingston & St Andrew, has her sights set on completing her education in food and nutrition.

"I want to go back to school and complete my studies in food and nutrition. My aim is to learn about other foods and start a business," explained the Mountain View resident.

Six years ago, Nelson got into the pan business because she was unable to find employment.

"I was working, and then I got laid off. I have been trying to get another job, but after you apply and they call you for an interview, you don't hear anything back. I decided to do something for myself," Nelson shared.

It was while looking at some ads on Facebook that she came across an ad for PAN 2017.

"I always wanted to enter, but I didn't know how to. Then I was on Facebook looking at some ads and one popped up for the pan chicken competition, so I decided to enter," said Nelson.

Nelson, who currently sells pan chicken on Mountain View Avenue in Kingston, says she got into food while working as a waitress at a restaurant.

"I was working at a restaurant as a waitress and I used to go into the kitchen and ask the chef how to do certain things. So that's how I learnt how to prepare food," she added.

Eric Beaver aiming for the top 

St Ann resident Eric Beaver yearns to move his pan chicken business to an area that is less competitive. He hopes that dream will become a reality if he emerges victorious at the grand final of PAN 2017.

"I have been doing jerk chicken at Faith's Pen for a long time now, but things are slow so I wanted to move to somewhere like in Moneague where there's no one doing this kind of thing," explained Beaver.

His friend Cassius Gayle finished in third place at the grand final last year, after winning for the parish of St Ann at PAN 2016 Regional 2. Beaver saw the benefits that Gayle derived from the competition and decided to give it a try.

"I entered because I saw where persons were benefiting from it."

Beaver finished in second place at PAN 2017 Regional 2. The 46-year-old learnt to prepare pan chicken more than 20 years ago, and has stuck with it since then.

"A woman named Miss Maxie was the one who taught me, and I have been doing this since 1994. You have the good times and the bad times, but I remain true to my craft," said Beaver.

He attributes his success at Regional 2 to a secret ingredient. "I try to season the chicken and make it moist. I also add some secret ingredients, which I cannot share, but just look out for me in the finals. I plan to take home the trophy."