Alberto Atiles, Executive Sous-Chef of Sandals Grande Riviera Beach and Villa Golf Resort
"Being a chef is like a career in medicine: every day you have something new, something different to learn," Alberto Artiles tells us poolside at Dino's Pizza and Great House Grill, one of the several restaurants he's responsible for overseeing at Sandals Grande Riviera Beach and Villa Golf Resort. A native of the Dominican Republic, Atiles has worked at the Ocho Rios-situated Sandals Grande Riviera for almost two years, but his culinary odyssey began 17 years earlier in his homeland after enrolling at Info Tep, the government's hospitality and culinary training institution. He felt it was a natural progression after growing up in awe of his father's culinary skills -- he'd cook lunch and dinner for the family while his mum would prepare breakfast.
"After work, my father would cook for us in the house," Atiles shares in his heavy Spanish accent sprinkled with Jamaican colloquialism. "When I saw my father cooking, I became more interested in what he was doing... that is where the passion started."
Completing two years of schooling at Info Tep, the then 20-year-old landed his first job as a chef de partie at a seafood restaurant at a hotel within the Dominican-based Allegro resort chain. In time, Atiles was dispatched by Allegro to work in Turks and Caicos at one of the company's properties. After amicablly parting ways with Allegro, he was appointed executive chef at Point Grace hotel in Turks and Caicos, before eventually relocating to Antigua to work at Carlisle Bay.
"Then I came to Sandals," Atiles says, noting that he first worked at Sandals Montego Bay, then Beaches Negril, before his current post at Sandals Grande Riviera. "I love to experience different cultures and different cooking... and you see when you travel around, you get to know people, you get to know different techniques of chefs through your interactions with them."
His functions at Sandals, explains Atiles, involve responsibility for the manor side of the property, essentially split in two -- one side closer to the ocean, the other on the hillside.
"I'm responsible to ensure all the restaurants open on time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and to see to it that the goods for every particular restaurant are delivered from the storeroom. I am also in charge of ordering goods and meeting guests with special dietary needs on both sides of the property. We have the ballroom on this side and have a massive amount of functions here daily, so every function is my responsibility from the kitchen," he adds.
As for the experience of working and living on The Rock, the Dominican is soaking it all up and even has a Jamaican girlfriend for more than a year now.
"I love the culture and the people... I love my staff. I love Jamaican culture because every day you learn something new," he says.
He's become a convert of sorts to Jamaican food. So what are his favourite meals?
"For breakfast, ackee and saltfish and for dinner, brown stew chicken. I love dumplings. My girlfriend Ann Marie, she loves the yam, the Irish potato...I cook for her," Atiles shares.
Questioned about the differences between the cuisine of Dom Rep and that of Jamaica, he tells us they are not as great as one would be inclined to believe. "It's not really a big difference because we have the same rice and peas and stew beef; the only thing that we don't have that's different from you is the amount of pepper, the spiciness. We don't cook so spicy and the colour of the food, we don't really use much browning. It's a little lighter in colour when we do the stew," he explains.
As for his culinary and personal future, Atiles would not mind a long run at Sandals and staying in Jamaica. "I plan to build my house and family here and learn the culture," he confides. "I want to stay with Sandals because Sandals gave me the opportunity to develop and I feel like part of a family when it comes to Sandals."