Michael Henville: Award-winning chef who supports local agriculture and fishing

Food for thought: Chef of the Year, Michael Henville, displays some of his work.

Charlestown Nevis (January 4, 2012) — The local agriculture and fishing industry has reasons to face the New Year with confidence following the naming of 31-year-old Nevisian Michael Henville as the Chef of the Year in St. Kitts and Nevis for 2011-2012.

At the 5th Annual St. Kitts and Nevis Tourism Association’s Chef of the Year Competition for 2011-2012, held on December 15, 2011 at the La Cucina Restaurant at the St. Kitts Marriott Resort, where six chefs (three from St. Kitts and three from Nevis) competed, Mr Michael Henville easily emerged the winner.

The executive chef at Nevis’ Oualie Beach Resort, Henville said in an interview that ingredients he uses are locally grown. “I prefer to use local ingredients first before I look outside. I think there is a lot more flavours, the ingredients taste fresher, look better, the presentation on the plate is better, and flavours are more enhanced.

“I think colours are as well; so I definitely prefer local ingredients first. And it is not just vegetables and spices, it is poultry, it is meat, and fresh fish caught right outside here on the Oualie Dock that I use. So, I definitely prefer to use local.”

When the six chefs entered the competition, all were gunning for the top position. What was it that made Henville’s presentation come on top? He explained that it was a mystery basket style competition where no one knew what ingredients they would get until the judges told them to start.

“We had an hour and a half to prepare an appetiser and an entrée,” said Henville. “For the appetiser my choices were shrimps. I made a grilled shrimp salad with a citrus vinaigrette, and for my entrée, my choices were beef tenderloin, bleu cheese, tomatoes, okra and sweet potatoes. So I made a marinated grilled beef tenderloin with tomato and okra compote.

“Basically I took the tomatoes and okra and stewed them in a mixture of spices, herbs and vinegar, making them into a creamy consistency. I then caramelised the sweet potatoes and made a cream sauce out of the bleu cheese. It was all in the flavours.”

With that presentation, Mr Michael Henville made Nevis and Oualie Beach Resort proud by being named the winner. And Nevis has talent. Second position went to Ms Andrea Walwyn of the Montpellier Plantation Inn on Nevis, while the chef dethroned by Henville, and a back-to-back two-time winner, Mr Renaldo Mills, though representing a St. Kitts hotel, is from Cox Village in Nevis.

Henville started working at the Oualie Beach Resort in November 2010. He previously ran his own business, Acacia Food Company out of Florida in the United States of America. He used to make sauces, jams and spices and bottling them for retailing.

Asked why he left a thriving company to come back to Nevis, he said: “I always wanted to return to Nevis. I think it is very important to do something to give back to the community in any way. And so, if it is me cooking for guests and tourists visiting the island, then I see that as myself giving back and that is what I want to do.”

Born in the USA to a Nevisian father and Kittitian mother, Henville moved to Nevis at a very young age, as his father had taken up the position of General Manager at the Mount Nevis Hotel. He attributes his love for the culinary arts from those early days.

“I remember spending a lot of time up there (at the Mount Nevis Hotel) when I was younger, maybe when I was around five/six/seven years old and walking in an out of the kitchens, interacting with the cooks,” said Henville. “I then started cooking meals for myself, and all that really kind of peaked my interest in the culinary arts, wanting to become a chef.”

The young Henville left for the USA at age thirteen or thereabouts and after his high school education, started training as a chef in 1998, when he attended the Culinary Institute of America in upstate New York, and after a four-year stint he came out armed with an Associate and Bachelor’s degree.

“I am yes, I am very satisfied,” was Henville’s answer when asked if what he is doing is selling Nevis. “I think myself as well as other chefs on the island and in the Federation (of St. Kitts and Nevis) in general, you become almost like an artist and your dishes express who you are and you can really sell yourself and sell the country with what you do and what you prepare.”

Asked about his work at the Oualie Beach Resort, he said that they serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. He however stated that the dinner menu is different every night because he works on what is available to him that day as far as fresh ingredients, fresh seafood, fresh poultry, and meats are concerned.

“The dinner menu changes every day,” said Henville. “During the week we have lobster specials, and Tuesday night is one of our largest nights. We have a buffet which features steaks and lobsters, and we also have live entertainment.”

Admiring the trophy presented to him, Mr Michael Henville ended the interview by stating: “I am just happy… I think I represented the country well. I am very pleased.”

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