Kitchen Warrior Uonie Lyn
Giving up was never an option for Uonie Lyn, and with the help of the Jamaica Cultural Development Commision (JCDC), she was able to fulfil her purpose, develop her innate culinary skills and obtain the exposure to travel and use her God-given talents. As the JCDC 55th anniversary series continues, we focus on a Jamaican that has established herself within the culinary arts through JCDC and is making a name for herself abroad.
"People always asked where I started, and I tell them it all started with a big black soup pot on my head. This is not a joke, it really did happen," laughed Lyn, who grew up in the hills of St Elizabeth in a district, called Ginger Hill with her grandmother, who is also a farmer. "She would cook on the farm every Saturday for the men in the fields and I used to help her. I will tell you this; there is nothing like a wood fire cooking and fresh produce from the fields, and after the day was done I would put that pot on my head and carry it home this is where I develop my love for food and adventure," she said. By age eight, she was cooking the family meals.
By age 12, she was exposed to her Chinese roots by her aunt who introduced her to Chinese cuisine. After passing 4 subjects she then enrolled in the culinary training programme at HEART Culloden in Westmoreland. "This is where I got my first real taste of the culinary industry. In the end, I got the Spirit of the HEART award for most outstanding, my first of many trophies," said Lyn.
After HEART, she obtained her first job at Breezes Montego Bay. "That was my first encounter with negativity and hearing that I would never be a chef from a supervisor who was training me. "Instead of teaching me, it was all about trying to lower my self-esteem but I was determined never to give up. I remained humble through all the abuse until one day they finally moved him out," recollected Lyn.
Her first introduction to JCDC came from Female Executive Chef Arlene Ferguson within the Pastry Department. "When she took over she saw my talent and gave me my first lead cook role, and put an all ladies team to enter my first JCDC Culinary Competition," said Lyn. That year they walked away with the Gold medal and winning team, which was her very first taste of success.
They re-entered a second time with high expectations and was met with disappointment by only obtaining a bronze and a merit. "This is a failure I would never forget and a lesson I have to learn, that sometimes it's not always about winning. You grow more when you fail because there is always something new to learn, and if we keep winning, then where will our great stories come from?" she explained.
Lyn emphasised that moving to The Ritz-Carlton was imperative to her growth as a chef. It is there that she met chefs who encouraged her to enter the individual section of the JCDC Culinary Competition. "I was shocked and surprised when I was selected for the 2003 team to enter in the JCDC Culinary Competition knowing I have just joined the company little over six months," said Lyn.
A few of her achievements over the years include Chef of The Year, gold at the Taste of the Caribbean, gold medal at the Cayman Culinary Competition. "I have used the talent that God has given me over the years to be the best chef I could be and the best person I could be. I am not saying it was an easy road the life of a female chef is never easy. It is a harder road for us ladies, and I have seen most ladies give up because they were so burnt out," stated Lyn.
Even today, Lyn still has to prove that she is talented or better than most male chefs out there. "I have learned to be happy with myself, and where I am standing now as a chef of one of the largest catering companies on Cape Cod," said Lyn.
Her advice to young chefs is to remember to market themselves and their talent with experience and skills. "If you are working in the hotel don't get stuck in one department, learn all departments because the more you know the more you grow," she said.
"If you want to get rich in this business, run the other way now. We chefs only do it for the love. The hours are long and the rewards are small, but in the end, with love, passion and adventure you can live the best life," said Lyn.