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Bernard recalls Bermuda’s glory days when brunch was $8

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Bernard Stemphlet cooking up a breakfast feast at home (Photograph supplied)

When Bernard Stemphlet started working as a pastry chef at the Hamilton Princess half a century ago, the hotel was serving 1,000 dinners a night.

“That was pretty typical of hotels in Bermuda in the 1970s,” the 69-year-old said.

Food was cheap; when he went out on the town with his mates they had to dress up.

“Brunch at the Elbow Beach cost $8 to $9 dollars a head – and there was lots of food. If you did not wear a three-piece suit, you could not even get a drink. You could not get in anywhere. And you had to have good shoes, too.”

He was 19 years old when he stepped off the plane in Bermuda on March 22, 1972. Originally from Franche-Comté, Burgundy, he fell in love with the island.

“Bermuda was a lot quieter, back then,” the Frenchman said. “It was safe.”

He grew up in the village of Dampierre where his father, Phillipe Stemphlet, ran the bakery. Mr Stemphlet, his brother Gerard, and sister, Christianne, would often be hauled out of bed at 5am to help.

“We did not have a choice,” he said. “It was normal.”

He believes it is why he became a pastry chef.

“It’s what you did. If my father had been a dentist, then I would be a dentist right now.”

At 14, Mr Stemphlet left school and was apprenticed to a pastry chef in the neighbouring village.

“I would have to get up at 3am and pedal my bike to the next village,” he said. “It was about the distance of Hamilton to Flatts. I had to pedal in the rain and snow.”

He was paid the equivalent of $4 a month. The pastry shop owner beat him with a piece of wood, almost daily, for any little infraction.

“If I was a minute late, he would beat me,” Mr Stemphlet said.

He kept the abuse to himself for a long time, knowing he needed the training to pass his examinations but two years later he reached his breaking point and quit.

He apprenticed under his father during his final year and passed his examinations with top marks. His joy was short-lived as his old boss would not sign off on the training. Mr Stemphlet had to do another year with his father.

He moved to Bermuda after talking with a chef from a neighbouring village who had a job here. His late brother, who was also a pastry chef, came with him but eventually moved on to work in Toronto, Canada.

After a year at the Hamilton Princess, Mr Stemphlet was sent to the Southampton Princess to work.

“I was one of the first people in there,” he said. “Before it was even open to guests, I cooked for the people in the offices in the hotel.”

Bernard Stemphlet with one of his wedding cakes (Photograph supplied)

In 1974 he was hired by Elbow Beach Hotel as the head pastry chef.

“I was only 21 years old,” he said. “That was good for me. I had a baker working under me, and that was it. I was doing everything myself.”

His time there was cut short when he was called up for compulsory service with the French army.

“I could have chosen not to go back,” he said. “But then they would have got me later when I needed to renew my passport.”

Mr Stemphlet never stopped thinking about Bermuda and returned to the Elbow Beach Hotel as soon as his time in the army was up.

Soon after, he met his wife Linda in the Elbow Beach staff club.

“The club was located in a building on the beach where Cafe Lido is today,” he said. “There was a bar and people could play pool. It was open to the outside world. She worked at KPMG, and came there to meet people.”

They married on January 6, 1979 and have two children, Marc and France, and four grandchildren.

Mr Stemphlet soon gained a reputation for his elaborate entries in the cake competition of the annual Agricultural Show.

“They would tell me don’t come back next year, let someone else have the prize,” he laughed. “I always went back. Once I made a cake that looked like City Hall. I walked around the entire building putting one foot in front of the other. Then I came back and turned every foot step into one inch. I probably used about 40lbs of sugar.”

Bernard Stemphlet at International Imports on Par-la-Ville Road in Hamilton (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

In 1999 he left the hotel industry and went to work at International Imports.

Popular cooking classes at the Par-la-Ville Road store have been put on hold because of the pandemic. Mr Stemphlet is looking forward to the day they are offered again.

“But first, we have to get rid of the masks,” he said.

In his spare time he loves baking goodies.

Lifestyle profiles the island’s senior citizens every Wednesday. Contact Jessie Moniz Hardy on 278-0150 or jmhardy@royalgazette.com with the full name and contact details and the reason you are suggesting them

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Published March 09, 2022 at 7:50 am (Updated March 10, 2022 at 8:01 am)

Bernard recalls Bermuda’s glory days when brunch was $8

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