Two worthy chefs tied for the coveted title of Bon Vivant Amateur Chef of the Year at January’s Cayman Cook Out cook-off event, with judges unable to pick a clear winner from Tessa Gall and Fraser Hughes. The Journal catches up with both individuals to hear about their own unique passion for food. This month we hear from Fraser and next month from Tessa.
As a youngster Fraser Hughes had a healthy curiosity for cooking, assisting his French/Canadian mother in the kitchen and enjoying the spoils of his parents’ dinner parties.
“My mother was a great cook and my sister and I managed to enjoy fine cuisine at a young age,” he confirms.
However Fraser says he didn’t develop a serious interest in cooking until he left home for college.
“As a starving student I found that having some cooking knowledge was a great way to women’s hearts!” he says, with a grin. “So I became a pasta wizard – incorporating cream sauces, seafood, etc, anything that was on sale and would make a great pasta dish.”
Fraser initially went to college in what he terms the working class town of Peterborough, Ontario in Canada, where “you get two types of cheese – yellow or orange”. Thus he says his creativity as a cook was put to the test from the very beginning.
A world of culinary influences
As an undergrad, Fraser decided to take time out of studying to work in Paris for the opening of EuroDisney there.
“I became the HR manager for the Newport Bay Club, the largest hotel in Europe, and was surrounded by excellent food and top class chefs,” he explains. “I ended up staying for three years instead of just one and learnt so much about food in that time.”
Fraser then moved to London to undertake his law degree, and it was there that Fraser says he met his wife-to-be, wooing her with his amazing risotto. In London he discovered the delights of Brick Lane’s famous curry houses, adding to his repertoire and love for food.
“I grew up in Toronto which is incredibly multi-cultural anyway,” he says. “So I had a wide base of cuisines to draw on from the beginning. One of my favourite hang outs in Toronto was Albert’s Real Jerk!”
Finally ending up working in Canada as a lawyer after undertaking a second law degree there, Fraser began to discover the delights of fine wine and food. Upon moving to Cayman three and a half years ago, Fraser says he has continued enjoying cooking for friends and family.
“I go through phases of what I like to cook, working on recipes until they are perfected. For example I went through a jerk chicken phase which meant my wife got a bit sick and tired of it in the end. But I had to perfect that crispy skin and the right combination of spices!” he confirms, adding, “my final recipes would not be so good were it not for my wife, she has a fantastic palate, always knows what’s missing, and isn’t afraid to tell me.”
Friends suggested that Fraser enter the Bon Vivant Amateur Cook Off after sampling the results of his culinary talents.
“I looked at the criteria from the judges which stated that the dishes should have a local flavour, so I decided on a land crab dish as my first entry. What could be more local than what was currently in my back garden!” he says.
Fraser created a crab cake recipe which he says took a while to perfect, so that the cakes held their shape perfectly, without becoming too stodgy.
Duck was an ingredient close to Fraser’s heart, having grown up enjoying duck cooked in the French style. He decided to recreate a classic confit of duck plus a sautéed duck breast for his semi-final entry, using locally sourced duck from McLean’s farm in East End and creating a memorable dish that had the judges talking about it for a good while after the event.
Again, practice made perfect and Fraser says he worked on the dish a good few times prior to the cook off.
“Cooking is like painting – once you have mastered the science and learnt the skills then you can play with it artistically,” he says.
As with his fellow final contestant, Tessa, Fraser says his goal was just to reach the final and meet with and cook for the famous chefs who would be judging.
“It was pretty nerve-racking leading up to the final but I prepared really well, so I was not so nervous on the day itself,” he states.
His final dish also revolved around fresh lobster, serving it cured in lemon and lime alongside a wahoo gravedlax with local wing beans from an East End farm.
“I wanted to use lobster freshly caught on the day but the seas had been rough on the Saturday and I was worried that I might have to go to plan B on the Sunday, which was to simply cook the wahoo two ways. Thankfully the local fishermen went out early on Sunday and called me up in enough time to see if I was still interested in the lobster.”
When deciding what he would cook at the Cook off, Fraser said that he looked at the local food available first and foremost, and created his menu around that, managing in the end to use 100 per cent local produce for his final dishes.
“All truly great food is local food,” he says. “All the world’s great recipes are based around ways conceived to best use local ingredients.”
Fraser says it has been great working alongside other amateur chefs as well as chefs working in the industry and local farmers and fishermen.
“It has been a marvellous experience to share ideas and learn from each other,” he says.