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POWERHOUSES UNDER 25 - Brian Lumley excites the taste buds, imagination

Published:Friday | November 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM
Brian Lumley, personal chef of French Ambassador Marc Oliver Gendry, displaying his creations at the Norway Culinary Adventure at Royal Plantation, Ocho Rios. - Contributed
Chef Brian Lumley - Contributed

Garfene Grandison, Gleaner Writer

The Gleaner speaks with chef Brian Lumley, who is dedicated to not only personal but also national development.

How long have you been in this field?

I have been cooking since age nine, but have been a professional since 2006.

Where have you studied?

I did all my culinary courses at the Runaway Bay HEART Hotel and Training Institute. I am now a certified chef de cuisine and have one more level to complete in order to attain the doctorate of chef degree, which will then make me a certified executive chef. These courses are a joint degree programme offered by HEART and the Culinary Institute of America.

Why this career path?

This profession worldwide garners a lot of respect due to a chef's ability to take the most banal of foods and transform it into works of art. Rising to different challenges is exhilarating! I have to be on top of my game at all times, because I am only as good as the last dish I created. It only takes one unappetising dish to tarnish a chef's reputation. There's no such thing as an 'off' day. Being a chef provides myriad opportunities to see the world while doing something I have a passion for. To date, I have travelled to Canada, Japan and Puerto Rico for several culinary competitions. Also, being able to rub shoulders and pick the brains of legendary local and international chefs is a definite plus.

I love cooking. It's very therapeutic for me. I strongly disliked it initially, as I could not stand the sight of my mother testing the seasoning on the raw chicken by tasting it. There was also acclimatising to an industrial kitchen's heat and the loads of preparation that went into it. However, I really love to eat and my mother is a great cook. I wanted to satisfy my hunger.

What are your accomplishments to date?

Observer Food awards 2010 - double nomination for Chef of the Year and Caterer of the Year. Taste of Jamaica's Hans Schenk award for Most Innovative Use of Caribbean Ingredients 2010, awarded a silver medal. Taste of the Caribbean 2009 (Puerto Rico) - Best Use of Cheese, Most Innovative Dish, personal bronze medal and a team gold medal. Taste of Jamaica's Chef of the Year 2008, awarded for Best Use of Chicken.

How was the process when you first started in this career field?

It was very challenging, but at the same time thrilling. It was a new world for me, walking into a professional kitchen filled with bright lights and lots of equipment I had never seen before. The experienced chefs kicked off my training by having me peeling and washing a stack of vegetables the size of Mount Everest for hours. It was a culture shock - moving from preparing meals for four persons at home then suddenly prepping for hundreds of guests in a hotel.

I then moved on to knife skills, so I'd be cutting these different vegetables into specific shapes and sizes while maintaining uniformity. I spent almost six months doing that before I could get the opportunity to cook. I also had to adjust to long hours on my feet and the sweltering heat from the burners from the range (a row of industrial stoves usually aligned next to each other). I've endured more than 200 minor burns and used up countless Band-Aid, but at the end of the day - I cannot complain because it has significantly contributed to who I am today and will be tomorrow.

What are you currently doing to further develop your ambitions for your career path?

I could tell you, but then I would have to kill you! I'm joking. I have placed my studies on hold to pursue a salient part of being a chef, which is having a wealth of hands-on experience. During this time, I will sharpen my skills and apply the vast amount of theoretical information gathered from my courses. I'm currently exploring other avenues, such as hosting one of the most talked about breakthrough events on the culinary circuit, in order to gain as much experience about the business side of food.

Additionally, I'm gearing up to start travelling in the near future to explore first-hand diverse culinary trends, cuisine, different cultures and their affiliation with food.

What do you hope to achieve in 10 years?

In 10 years, I would hope to become an executive chef, cementing my name as one of Jamaica's outstanding sons who contribute to nation development through promoting the local cuisine and 'taking it to de worl'.

What drives and inspires your career path?

My family. They have been a real tight-knit fan base, following me everywhere, always showing pure excitement and never failing to show unconditional love. In addition, it is the passion I possess for my craft, and that passion feeds off the appreciation I receive from satisfied clients. Other chefs, as well as my peers, inspire me too. To watch someone with a similar love affair and see them honing and taking their craft to higher levels encourages me to follow suit and try to better what they have achieved.

What do you have to offer as the future of the next generation?

Encouragement, which will lead to hope. One of my goals in life is to teach upcoming chefs to channel their skills into profitability. The younger generation needs to believe in their abilities and that they can achieve feats beyond their imagination while in their youth. Seeing someone achieve that will empower them to dream big and to be brave enough to actively chase after their goals.

Do you consider yourself to be revolutionary? How do you plan to change the game?

I wouldn't consider myself a revolutionary just yet, as I have many feats to achieve before making such conclusions. However, my modus operandi in stepping up the game of the culinary landscape is to first contribute to the mandate of the Culinary Federation of Jamaica, which speaks to aligning Jamaica's cuisine to other traditional cuisine of the world. Jamaica's local cuisine is much more than just jerk chicken and curry goat. We have yet to fully discover the full range of uses for our local ingredients, which rank among the best in quality of organic herbs and vegetables worldwide.

Besides access to education, what do you think needs to be done in order to transform youth in Jamaica?

I think it needs to start from inside the household. Parents must grasp the importance of their role in society, which is to mould their young minds to become all-round, functioning citizens. It takes unconditional love, proper planning and loads of patience to do so. A lack of these qualities results in the growing number of delinquents, as seen in Jamaica today. Not many of us are fortunate enough to account for our parents/guardians being there to set a firm foundation in order for us to navigate through life with confidence.

Distinguish yourself from your peers.

That is a really difficult task, because every chef is driven by the passion they have for their craft. But I think the thing that sets me apart is the ability to express that passion, not only in a plated version of a dish, or how well I may cook a meal. It's the willingness to see the growth of our cuisine and the perfection of it thereof. It is the way I present and speak about food to other persons and my excitement for food edutainment, embracing people's traditions and style of cooking. Finally, it is my insatiable appetite for all things food.

Old men rule the world, true or false? Why?

True. In any sector of commerce, you will observe that the majority of industry leaders are usually senior men who moderate and dictate how these thriving and relevant

industries operate. Although it is known that experience teaches wisdom we (the young men) have the opportunity to not only learn from the mistakes made but to study what those men did correctly, and take full advantage of the virtues of youth and put in the long hours and tireless efforts to advance the respective sectors. Taking into account the ever-evolving technologies of present day, the next set generation with stars like Facebook's creator Mark Zuckerberg and the world's fastest man Usain Bolt challenge the adage.

Old men are regarded as legends in their own right, and it goes without saying that respect must always be demonstrated, as they are the reason I can even attempt to improve the game.

What's been the most challenging part of making a name for yourself in your field?

I have been tremendously blessed in making a name in my field. The most challenging part is the aftermath, where you have to maintain that reputation. Food is constantly changing and most of us Jamaicans grow tired of new trends easily. Therefore, in order to keep up with such progressions, as a culinarian you have to keep learning and keep updated on the latest culinary trends.