Elvis: J1 Culinary Intern Interview
We recently had the chance to catch up with J1 Intern participant Elvis. He shared with us his storied past, his goals, and dreams and offered great advice to future participants coming to the US.
I am a proud graduate from the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College located in the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, where I study the culinary arts. It has long been my dream to become a chef!
That’s great, what is it you love about cooking, and when did you start?
My culinary obsession began at a very young age. As a child, I’d mix along food items such as apples and ketchup, or bananas with grenadine syrup. They were quite the childish, whimsical concoctions, however, it was those simple items and their interesting flavors that helped build my interest in the culinary arts later on in life.
Who were your personal culinary inspirations growing up?
I looked up to and would follow my high school culinary teachers Ms. Agatha Eugene and Mrs. Blaze. They worked with me and molded me at the start and ensured that I understood the basics of culinary arts.
So they encouraged you to cook and follow in their footsteps?
Yes, I would say the time spent with them was the defining moment of my life as I decided to give my heart to this discipline. They encouraged me as I took part in multiple cook offs and other culinary related events to really get a thorough understanding of this career possibility.
When did you decide that this was the profession for you?
I did my regional Caribbean Examinations in 2011 and obtained distinctions in all subjects and I was afforded a scholarship to the top college on the island. From there, I would progress with college where I studied Food and Beverage Operations and learned many of the culinary complexities and kitchen fundamentals. It would serve as a stepping-stone and the start of my international career as a chef.
It sounds like cooking was the perfect profession for you. What did you do after you graduated?
I graduated in 2013 with top honors in my studies, and was offered a training position at the prestigious Sandals Beaches Ohco Rios Resort located in Jamaica. This gave me some of the necessary hand on experience needed to begin my journey. There I worked with an amazing team lead by the charismatic sous chef, Lemar Lawerence and his cooks Thersa Brown and Lemar Carter. This was the most difficult kitchen I’ve worked at yet. It made me a stronger chef and I really developed and understood many different Caribbean cuisines and learned new knife skills.
It’s amazing what you can learn when working with professionals; its sounds like you paid your dues. When did you decide that you wanted to come to the US and cook?
I learned so much during my time there. After my six-month program ended I moved back home, however, I felt that there was still much more to be learned and wanted to experience a culture unlike anything that I may find in the Caribbean. It was then that I came across the Alliance Abroad Group’s J-1 program.
How did you discover our program?
After returning home and having discussed my new goals of becoming an international chef with associates, a former professor and friend pointed out this amazing opportunity.
That’s great, why did you choose to use AAG for your J-1 program?
One of the most crucial reasons I took interest in this program is because it really allows you to be immersed completely by a new and different culture. Additionally the AAG team sets your training program in such a way that you are able to gain hands-on experience in the disciple which you study, participate in planned and coordinated cultural activities whilst in the country, not forgetting you get to meet new people of different cultures.
We are glad we could help you come and immerse yourself in the US culture, where did you work and live while in the US?
I landed a placement cooking in the state of Kentucky where I worked with my host company for 1 year.
The amount of work and fun activities I was able to squeeze in such a short time was really outstanding and exactly as planned by the AAG team. Some of my favorite tours and activities included visiting the local museums, attending some amazing theme parks, travelling to other states such as New York and Colorado, and dining with an American Family and eating American food!
What were some of the challenges you faced when you first arrived, and throughout your program?
When I first arrived the most challenging thing to have dealt with was the immediate change in temperature (I am from the Caribbean). This was overcome by just wearing a few extra layers of clothing. The next challenge I faced involved having to work with so many different personalities and cultures. Although I thought I’d been prepared, it wasn’t until I was actually going through it all did it begin to get a bit overwhelming. America truly is a melting pot and it took some time to understand and be able to work with everyone who had such variable forms of cultural practices and personalities.
Sounds like you adapted very well, and kept your goal in focus. What advice would you give to people from your country, or from others about coming to the US as a J-1?
My advice to others that through the center of it all, is to embrace a universal language understood by everyone, the universal language of love! Love was a big part of the American culture and will always Guide me as I progress in life. Sometimes it can be challenging working in very fast paced environments but there was always a sense of love and belongingness radiating from everyone!
Great advice, what’s next for you, and anything else you would like to say?
I returned home in June of 2015 and I am currently passing on the knowledge I gained and valuable life lessons learned unto my fellow community and island men. I would definitely recommend this program to anyone wishing to gain hands-on experience in their current field of study, as it serves as a bridge, capable of filling the gap and demonstrating the practical part of your theoretical studies. Moreover you get to experience a new culture and engage in very fun cultural activities!