Business

Alex D-Great: A cook's tale of professional success

BY HANNIFFA PATTERSON

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

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At only two years old, Alex D-Great was badly burnt on his head and forehead while in his parents' kitchen. Years later, at Bridgeport High school, when faced with deciding on a career it was easy for him to choose. He needed a job where he could wear a cap to cover the burn. He decided to become a professional chef.

Today Alex is the executive chef at The Steak House on the Verandah at Devon House in Kingston — one of Jamaica's premium eateries serving high quality steak meals in an historic setting.

Alex has 10 chefs and five stewards working below him. He is only 27.

“In essence, the executive chef manages the entire operation of the kitchen. You monitor inventory, food costs, deal with the HR, documentation, and other practical aspects — sometimes even the professional and psychological well-being of your staff.” He explained.

“You create recipes and have to do a lot of research and training. You have to ensure the staff executes instructions and [you must] know the capabilities of your staff.”

Alex's journey has not always been all smiles, as it has been marked by pain and tragedy. However, this young man was determined to move forward and to make an impact on those around him along the way…and it has paid off.

CHEF IT IS

In the beginning, so he could get his start and initial taste of the industry, Alex's parents sought for him summer jobs in various restaurants in the Portmore area — Tastee, and KFC.

He then enrolled at Runaway Bay HEART Training facility, where he worked on mastering the local style and flavour. However it was in year two while training at Royal Plantation that Alex truly found his sweet spot.

“At this location I was feeding the elite and seeing a different side of the world and a different side to food. There I discovered the more delicate side of cooking.

“I am grateful to the sous chef there, Mr Gian Stewart, who showed me the light and different techniques, and for playing a vital role in my training and development,” he continued

Alex then went on to train and work in many of Jamaica's top hotels and restaurants, including Hedonism, Sandals San Souci and Bahia Principe, to name a few. He's also worked at Breezes Braco Trelawny, at Wyndam as the assistant chef in the Italian restaurant, Spanish Court Hotel and also at Ribbiz as Executive Chef.

He even partnered with Michael Fulford in his own venture — a catering company and steak night based at Constant Spring Golf Club.

TRAGEDY STRIKES

During this time, things were going well and his career was advancing. “At only 25, I was already two years ahead in my five-year plan.”

But then tragedy struck, when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, dying on his sister's birthday in December.

“This was my greatest struggle. After she passed I went through a serious phase of depression; I even temporarily lost my love for cooking and my love for the kitchen. I am still recovering. She was the person who saw and knew my potential and believed in me from the beginning.”

During the same period, Alex became a father. It was not planned, but it served as the necessary push he needed. “This spurred me on. I knew I had to go on for my son.”

However, tragedy struck again as within only a few months of his mother's death, his father also passed on. “I think he died of a broken heart,” he shared.

Instead of losing hope, Alex used these negative and unfortunate circumstances — from his burn, to even the passing of both parents — to propel him forward.

“I am grateful that before my parents died I made them know that I appreciated and loved them. I also got to tell my father that I am grateful even for the burn — He was the one in the kitchen with me. It helped shape my destiny. I firmly believe that none of these things was by chance. Without being burned I would not be where I am today,” shared Alex.

HOW HE BECAME D-GREAT

Despite how it might seem, being a chef has its challenges.

“Being a chef can be bitter- sweet, very challenging, very long hours,”

You have to cook when people are eating and enjoying themselves. Weekends and holidays are the busiest time; it can put stress on your family,” he explained.

Despite the challenges of the job, he enjoys it and the creativity it offers.

“The joy of satisfying a client is worth it…there are always new recipes to try or to create, so it's an everlasting challenge to go after them,” says the chef.

When speaking of his current role at The Steak House, he said “It's a great work environment and it's a young team with lots of great ideas.”

So what's it like being only 27 and the executive chef of such a premium restaurant?

For Alex, it's more about maturity than age “You have to show a certain level of maturity and earn respect. For me that's bigger than everything, bigger than age. So you give respect and work to earn it,” he explained.

Alex was born Alex White, but changed his name by deed poll after his father passed. It was a title he received from a steward, and he feels that it suits him well and forces him to live up to the greatness.

“I believe our names lead us to our destiny. I also wanted to start my own legacy, but I did not want to make the change while my father was alive.”

ENTREPRENEUR AT HEART

Paired with his love for cooking, Alex explains that he is also an entrepreneur at heart.

Outside of his role at The Steak House, he also offers private dining services for events and special occasions. “This is where I transform your home into a restaurant. I give people the quality they may not be able to get in a restaurant due to the rush or crowd”, he shared.

“The entrepreneurship bug has been in my family ever since. my parents never worked for anyone. They hustled. my mother ran a shop, did dressmaking, and dad carried school-kids. We also had chickens.”

Being a chef affords him the best of both worlds, the opportunity to work with the best, learn and share, but also a level of independence and autonomy.

He explains that many people also don't realise all the opportunities available in this area - outside of cooking.

“The industry has every domain the world has to offer. There is accounting; if you are a designer, you can design clothes.” At one point he and his mother even had a uniform clothing line for chefs.

“You can sell supplies and equipment you can service stoves and equipment. Food can also be medicine. It's a very big and underestimated field,” he explained.

Today, Alex's professional drive and excellent work ethic is birthed from the desire to continue his parent's legacy and be a good role model to his child — as while managing the high-profile and challenging job, Alex also has full custody of his son.

He stressed the importance of family, love, and being a good provider as key lessons his parents instilled in him.

“My father was a provider, and though we didn't have everything, we always had food- maybe not what I wanted, but we had food. It was six of us in all.”

Outside of his family, Alex is inspired by various people, Mohamed Ali 50 cent and even Vybz Kartel. “…Not necessarily because of their lifestyle, but their work ethic. They are people who came from poor backgrounds but went at it nevertheless and became successful at their craft,” he explained.

His advice to young upcoming chefs is — “If you're not going to dedicate 10 years to it, it makes no sense to start. You'll need at least that time to really focus yourself and work on the different areas-speed, organisation, communication, and the business aspects. So if you aren't dedicated to learning different dishes and different chef styles and techniques, don't bother. It takes dedication to reach to a high level.”

Thanks to the lessons learned over the years he is determined to be an inspiration to those around him and has already begun. Alex has taken a few young chefs under his wing, and offers support and guidance. Today he proudly speaks of his confidence in the skills of his team.

“The good thing about starting from the bottom? You can be a better leader, not a boss. I can teach the steward how to mop the floor correctly, because I've done it before,” he shared.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE

The future is one of focus, growth and time to give back. “In five years I hope to be in the beginning stages of opening a culinary school and also to have my own restaurant,” he shared.

He also hopes to branch out into other areas, like motivational speaking, so that he can use his story as encouragement for those who may be facing difficulties.

“I keep my eye on where I want to go in life, everyday I reflect. What could I have done better today? What can I do better tomorrow? What do I need to do to make an impact 10 years from now?”

Alex is taking one step at a time, trusting that everything, the good the bad and the in- between, are falling into place on his journey.

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