Celebrated chefs to highlight local dishes in fundraiser
As a kid, Fred Ming would often be sent up the tree in the backyard to gather pawpaws for his grandmother.
He didn’t mind the job, but he hated the large lizards that were often there.
Braving them was worth it though, his grandmother used the fruit to make a dish he loved – green pawpaw casserole. “I call it Bermuda lasagne,” Fred said.
If you’re wondering what that tastes like it’s one of several traditional Bermudian recipes that will be offered at a fundraiser next week.
The dishes will be made by Fred and his son Shawn, who is also a chef, in honour of the Bermuda College Library.
Fred taught culinary arts at the Bermuda College for 28 years, and was deputy head of the hospitality department. When he retired in 2001 he handed the baton over to Shawn.
“I have now been teaching here for 26 years, so I almost have my father beat,” he said.
His initial plan was to become a doctor or biology teacher but at 15, with his parents nagging him to get a summer job, he applied at “the airport flight kitchen”.
Only after he had applied did he discover that his father got his start there back in the 1960s. Fred made some calls, and Shawn was hired.
His job was to put food on plates going around a conveyor belt.
“Someone would put on the chicken, someone would put the sauce, someone would put the veg and rice as the plates were moving by,” Shawn said.
Curious, he watched the chefs during his lunch break and asked questions about what they were doing.
His interest was such that when one of the chefs quit, he was invited to move from the conveyor belt and actually start cooking.
“I did pick up some tricks from my father, but I learnt most of my cooking in the airport kitchen,” Shawn said.
With the money he earned while working at the airport, Fred was able to buy a house at the age of 20.
As a summer job, it helped Shawn pay for his biology studies at Acadia University in Canada and also taught him a lot about being a chef.
When he graduated from college he took his father’s suggestion to get a cooking certification.
“He said there were lecturers at the Bermuda College who would be retiring in a few years,” Shawn said.
He enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Poughkeepsie, New York, and on his return, joined the Southampton Princess.
“When I saw the kitchen for the first time I did not believe I was in my own country,” Shawn said. “There were so many foreigners. They were good people and I made good relationships with them, but there were only about three or four Bermudians back there.”
He started teaching at Bermuda College in 1997, and remains very passionate about it.
“I really enjoy my job,” he said. “I love seeing my students walk across the stage to get their diplomas and certificates. That is a very proud day for me.”
A lot has changed since he started in the industry.
“Thirty years ago people’s impression of a ‘cook’ was someone flipping burgers with a dirty apron on and a cigarette in their mouth,” Shawn said. “In these past ten to 14 years there is a greater level of prestige allowed to chefs.”
The internet has opened up cooking in a way it never was before, he added.
“If you want to find out how to make something, just go online and it is there for you,” Shawn said. “Because of that we have to be on top of our game even more.”
He “really enjoyed” the four years he spent working with his father at the College.
They both have funny stories about some of their students.
“At the Bermuda College you had a syllabus that you had to follow,” Fred said. “When the new students come in, right away they want to start cooking, without knowing the methods. But there is a certain amount of theory you have to do before you even step into the kitchen.
“Once, I was doing a lunch for the dining room. I was going around and giving everyone in the kitchen an assignment. I told this one student that she was going to make a nice sponge cake, and I wanted her to cream the butter and sugar together.”
He was astonished when the student handed him an actual carton of cream and not the two ingredients mixed together.
Shawn remembers asking a student to give him three eggs, separated. He anticipated two bowls – one with the yolks and the other with the egg whites.
“The student went to the refrigerator and laid out three whole eggs in front of me, all carefully separated from one another,” Shawn said.
He insists his career choice was equally influenced by his late mother, Charlotte, a former principal of Clearwater Middle School in St David’s.
“I have two siblings, Robert and Tamara, and they are both teachers,” Shawn said. “I followed both my parents by becoming a teacher and a chef.”
Fred and Shawn Ming will host Bermuda Traditions on May 11 at 6.30pm in the Bermuda College Library. Tickets, $25, are available at www.ptix.bm and from the library. For more information call 236-9000 ext 4381 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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