She’s a super showstopper
Renee Daniels had always dreamt of being a cook but it wasn’t until she won the praise of Marcus Samuelsson that her dream became a reality.
She beat out competition from her fellow Bermuda College culinary students to win a contract at Marcus’, the celebrity chef’s restaurant at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club.
The devoted mother and wife was made redundant two years ago from The Royal Gazette Limited, where she worked in customs clearance.
She took a leap of faith to retrain as a chef and, in her own words, has “never looked back”.
“It was terrifying losing my job, as I’d never been out of work before,” the 50-year-old said.
“I’ve always loved cooking. Ever since I was a little girl, me and my mother would cook soul food — collard greens, fried chicken, sweet potato pie … all that goodness.
“The only reason I didn’t become a chef before was because I didn’t think it would support me financially.
“I had a child to take care of and I didn’t want all of the burden to fall on my husband.
“But when I heard there was going to be this competition I said, ‘Yes please, sign me up’.”
Under the direction of Teneika Eve, the senior culinary lecturer at the Bermuda College, Ms Daniels’s confidence in the kitchen and ability to perform under pressure saw her selected as one of three students given the opportunity of a lifetime: the chance to cook for Samuelsson.
The contest involved three rounds, canapés, chef’s choice and a mystery basket.
While she breezed through the first two, the mystery basket’s rather unconventional ingredients left her scratching her head Ms Daniels admitted.
“My fried risotto balls with a tomato and pesto sauce topped with Parmesan was my canapé.
“For the chef’s choice, I decided to do coconut curried shrimp with some jasmine rice.
“I knew I’d be able to master it because I have done it so many times and it is a crowd pleaser.
“But when I saw the mystery basket I thought, ‘My gosh!’ I looked in and I saw cheesy Pringles, chicken breasts, green grapes and apple sauce, I thought, ‘What am I going to do with that?’.
“I froze, but said to myself, ‘Renee, get your feet moving and think as you go, you will figure it out along the way’.
“I crushed up the chips to make a batter for the chicken, I made a sauce out of the apple sauce and grapes; I added some Scotch bonnets to give it a little kick and a little marjoram seasoning. That won me the show. They said the sauce was so good I should bottle it up and sell it.”
She is due to take up the position at Marcus’ soon after her graduation in May.
Ms Daniels moved to Bermuda 24 years ago after meeting Bermudian Phil Daniels at a wedding in her native Chicago.
“I didn’t catch the bouquet but I caught the man,” she laughed.
Her husband, whom she affectionately calls “Big Daddy”, was the first person she told about her win.
She credits her 19-year-old daughter, Kuiana, for pushing her to sign the contract at Marcus’, she had been offered jobs elsewhere and still had her reservations about cooking as a career.
“My daughter knows that my ultimate goal is to open a food truck. I want my own business.
“She said people would be banging down the door on my truck knowing I came from Marcus’ and I thought, ‘You are right.’ She is my cheerleader.”
Asked to elaborate on her long-term goal, Ms Daniels is keeping her cards close to her chest.
“I can’t give away all my secrets but it will be in an underserved part of the island,” was all she would say.
“As one example, I would like to have my chef’s choice-type food, my award-winning fired risotto balls that helped me win my title.”