Cayman’s Bradley McLaughlin had used squid as fishing bait, but he had never had to clean and sauté the mollusc before Tuesday, during the Junior Chef of the Year competition at the Taste of Caribbean event in Miami, Florida.
McLaughlin, 17, was up against 13 other chefs from various Caribbean nations – all of whom were older than he – in a competition where they received a ‘mystery basket’ that contained both the squid and beef sirloin. The budding chefs had a community table of ingredients they could utilise to come up with a menu featuring the beef and seafood.
The chefs, McLaughlin said, were given 15 minutes to submit a list of dishes, an hour to prep and an hour to cook. The Caribbean coleslaw, potato medley cake, garlic and butter squid, pan-seared sirloin and breadfruit chips he prepared earned him a silver medal in the competition.
McLaughlin, a member of the Cayman Youth Culinary Programme, was part of a five-person team that came away with the overall gold medal at the nearly week-long event. Cayman representatives won other top awards including Chef of the Year, winner in the seafood competition, and a gold medal in the pastry event. Cayman also won a special award for the best mystery bar drink.
A student at the University College of the Cayman Islands, McLaughlin said he was a bit disappointed that his inaugural performance at Taste of Caribbean did not put him in first place.
“My goal was to put Cayman in the gold medal position,” he said. “Next year’s going to be different.”
McLaughlin, who hopes to one day have his own fine dining restaurant in Cayman, said he trained once a week for two months preparing for the international event. The training amounted to having other chefs “throw different ingredients” at him. Those included combinations such as fish and pork or scallops and octopus.
He said the hardest part of the preparation was cleaning the squid and trimming the beef properly. Only one thing went wrong, he said, and that was burning the jus for the beef.
“I burned the jus at first,” he said. “I quickly remade [it]. I had to improvise because I couldn’t go back to the community table. I utilised all of my scraps to make some beef stock.”
He added some sorrel, which he had on hand, and some beef base before reducing it. In the end, he said, everything came out the way he wanted.
He was coached along the way by chef Jason Ao, who works at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.
Ao won the top individual title at the event and was named Chef of the Year. Dimuth Munasingha won the seafood competition, and a gold medal in the pastry division went to Baranidharan Thirunavukkarasu. Cayman Youth Culinary Programme’s Brittney Bodden earned an honourable mention in the beef competition.