Divi Little Bay Beach Resort’s kitchen supervisor Ishshah Carty is a former Oranje School and Milton Peters College student, who hails from Bush Road. She tells us about herself and her life in the kitchen in this week’s Hot Seat.
When did you realise you wanted to become a chef?
I always liked to cook growing up and I enjoy good food. I remember walking through meat aisles in grocery stores and thinking what I could make. The first meal I cooked for my parents by myself was a pork fillet stuffed with cheese – very ambitious for a nine-year-old. It was overcooked and extremely salty [laughs]. I always dreamt of owning my own restaurant, so when choosing a career path, I naturally gravitated towards the hospitality industry. It made sense to me and I figured that would give me a great base for having my own place in the future and that I would take a cooking course to know what was happening in the kitchen and be a well-rounded business owner. When I applied for college and saw that they had courses that would allow that, I went for it. Into my first month of culinary school, I was hooked. I fell in love with the kitchen and realised that this is what I wanted to do more seriously.
Where did you pursue your culinary studies and what credentials do you hold?
I pursued my culinary studies at Okanagan College in Kelowna BC, Canada. I hold an associate’s degree in Advanced Culinary Arts and one in Hospitality Management.
How did you end up being the kitchen supervisor at Divi Little Bay Beach Resort?
Prior to Divi, I held many positions in front of the house and back. I’ve been a hostess, server, second cook, sous chef and kitchen supervisor. I was hired as a kitchen supervisor at Divi Little Bay and I’ve been in this position from early this year.
What’s your kitchen supervisory style?
I’m hands-on and like to help where I can. I can sometimes take on more than I should, but I guess that’s my independent spirit. When a team member has an issue, I try to help out as best as I can by listening to the issue and resolving it myself, or take it to someone who may be able to resolve the issue better than I can.
Tell me about a challenging situation that you’ve had and how you handled it?
I’ve had many, but one that comes to mind is dealing with severe allergies. I worked at Universal Studios Orlando Resort where thousands are fed daily, so the chances of persons with severe allergies are high. I had a situation where a guest came in for lunch and had so many allergies she couldn't eat about 80% of menu items. I had to think quickly and create something she could eat with ingredients that she wasn’t allergic to – and make it taste good. Thankfully, I was able to do that and she enjoyed her meal and was able to enjoy the rest of her day in the park without having an attack.
Which chef do you admire the most and why?
One of my mentors and former employers, who I worked with during my time at Universal, saw something in me that, at the time, I didn't see in myself. He pushed me out of my comfort zone… to achieve certain goals that I had set for myself within my culinary career. I’m still in contact with him, just for advice and motivation whenever I need that push. I will always be grateful and thank him. As far as celebrity chefs, it changes; but right now it’s Grant Achatz, because he is constantly trying to push his boundaries and evolve doing things with food that I personally didn’t think would be possible.
Give us insight into the background work that goes into preparing for a busy period at the restaurant.
In order to get through a busy day, you need to make sure you have all the prep you need – and a backup. You need to know your stock, also what your high sellers are and make sure there is extra or what your plan B is, if an item runs out. Having good communication with the front of the house is also important because they can control the flow of the kitchen. If they over-seat the restaurant, it can crash the kitchen because there would be too much volume coming into the kitchen at once and the result is long wait times and unhappy guests; so communication is key. Also, you need to be organised. There is only so much you can do to plan ahead, because there is never a perfect day in a kitchen. Being organised and being fully staffed with everyone in position will help you get through busy service.
What are your must-have kitchen gadgets?
I can't do without my knife – knife steel and peeler…and a good rubber spatula – I’m slightly obsessed with them. I have quite a few at home.
What’s your favourite ingredient that you use in almost everything?
Salt, garlic and onion are some of my favourite ingredients. I also always have unsalted butter at home and I like cooking with alcohol as it gives food, especially sauces, a nice flavour. I like setting it on fire [laughs] to burn out the harsh alcohol taste and get the flavour profile out of what you’re using.
What’s your best cooking tip?
Always have a good set of knives and keep them sharp. They will make your cooking life easier. A sharp knife means fewer chances of injuries because you won’t have to put so much pressure onto what you're cutting. Also, if you’re cooking chicken breast or any other dry piece of meat, first sear it in a hot pan with a little oil on both sides to lock in moisture and then finish it in the oven.
Of the dishes you prepare, which would you never eat yourself and which can you eat every day if you have to?
I would never eat anything with beets or spinach. I actually don’t like cooking with them that much either. I'm not a fan. I would and could eat steak and shrimp every day because I'm a big steak- and seafood-lover
Funniest kitchen moment for you?
While working at the theme park, renowned chef Anthony Bourdain came in with his family for lunch and my chef at the time decided that he would make something off menu for him and cooked it himself. He made this great meal and garnished it with parsley as the finishing touch and very proudly walked over to Bourdain’s table and presented it to him. Bourdain took one look at the dish and said, “Thank you, but I can’t eat it. I'm allergic to parsley.” We teased him about this for a while.
What trends are you noticing in the culinary world and what are people’s taste buds gravitating toward?
Many chefs are trying more and more to tell a story with food and emit an emotion with every bite. I also notice that everyone is trying to be healthier. You see more vegan and vegetarian options on the market and having them taste and look like meat as much as possible. People are also experimenting more with combining different flavours you wouldn't normally mix, like sweet and savoury and creating new flavour profiles.
When are you happiest at work?
I’m happiest when the kitchen is running smoothly and guests are happy. There’s nothing like seeing someone truly enjoy the food you just cooked for them.
What’s your first reaction to a customer who orders a multiple-course meal, just before closing?
Give the server who took the order the side eye and say in jest that the kitchen is closed, but then take a deep breath, out of sight of the guest, and prepare their meal. One of my mentors taught me a long time ago that the last meal should be just as good, if not better, than the first one that went out.
What is your best advice to aspiring chefs?
Never stop learning, because the culinary world is always changing. Always push yourself and be open-minded with your cooking.
What do you do for fun when you are not in the kitchen?
I love to travel and see new places, experience different cultures and try new food – I actually just got back from visiting Morocco, which was a very cool experience. Even here at home, I love to go out to new restaurants and bars and try them out. It’s not the cheapest hobby, but it’s a fun one. I’m kind of a home body who also enjoys just relaxing at home, spending time with my friends and my dog and going to the beach and movies.