20 Questions with Hance Bannister
There’s nothing quite like magic hour at the Coral Reef Club. When the light is just so, the pink glow of dusk gives way to the flicker of candles amongst the shadows of palm trees that surround the restaurant.
— By Joanna Fox
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
— Cover: Hance Bannister, Executive Chef – Coral Reef Club
The spacious tables in the Lilly Pond Terrace and surrounding open-dining area overlook the ocean, with the sound of waves dancing in and out of earshot. A fine dining experience at its best, the Coral Reef Club is the perfect combination of spectacular setting, Barbadian hospitality, and thoughtful, contemporary cuisine. With an ever-changing seasonal menu and convivial Thursday night weekly barbecue, dining at the Coral Reef is truly a sensory experience from top to bottom. From freshly caught seafood to classic culinary creations, Executive Chef Hance Bannister is the man in charge, and the one who orchestrates this outstanding brigade of men and women in the kitchen. We asked Bannister twenty questions about his life, career, Barbados, and food. Here’s what he had to say.
What is your earliest, fondest food memory?
Cooking with my grandmother.
What made you fall in love with cooking?
I was always intrigued by reading cookbooks and trying to replicate the recipes. I was curious about the science of the processes and reactions.
How did food and cooking play a part in your childhood and growing up?
I recall growing up as a child and being placed in the position of having to finish the meals after my grandmother had started the process. It was my introduction to cooking until I was able to start and finish the complete meal.
Do you have someone you would consider a mentor in your culinary career?
Obviously Graham Licorish, whom I have worked with at Coral Reef all my career. And I had the opportunity to work with Michael Caines at Gidleigh Park [Devon, England], which was very instrumental in my overall development as a chef.
Cooking allowed you to travel. What was your favourite place?
Gidleigh Park, Devon, and Andrew Fairlie Restaurant, Gleneagles, Scotland are my favourite places where I had the opportunity to develop my cooking knowledge.
How did you end up as chef of the Coral Reef Club?
My entire working life has been at Coral Reef. I worked as a waiter initially and then moved into the kitchen. Gradually I worked my way up to becoming the Executive Chef.
What's it like working for the O’Hara family run hotel?
I have a fantastic relationship with the O’Haras. Their interaction with our clientele on a day-to-day basis, and also the dedication of the staff, has made Coral Reef a very successful hotel with a very high percentage of repeat clientele. We are constantly striving to improve and raise the bar and it’s an honour to be the chef at such a hotel.
What was the most invaluable training you ever had?
Working at Gidleigh Park for 6 months with Michael Caines. It was the hardest - but most fulfilling - experience of my career. The education was invaluable. The commitment that I witnessed, the acute attention to detail, the respect given to the products, the dedication to making sure that all the dishes were perfect; all these things contributed to making me the chef that I am today.
Let's talk about food. What is your favourite thing to cook?
Ravioli – I love the technique involved in making the perfect ravioli.
What would you consider your style of cuisine?
I would say eclectic fusion. I draw from the different culinary styles, areas, cultures, and traditions/classics.
How would you describe your menu at the Coral Reef Club?
A combination of dishes utilizing quality products, prepared correctly to create food with the focus on flavour and nutrition to give a gastronomical experience that is truly unforgettable.
How often do you change the menu?
The à la carte dinner menu changes every day, interspersed with an international buffet and well-received BBQ.
What are the challenges of being a chef in Barbados?
There are no real challenges. We do have access to quality products/ingredients, which is most important.
What do you love most about being a chef?
Simply hearing the comments from the guests that our food is just as good as, or even better than, some of the top restaurants that they have experienced in Europe and other regions.
If you could give your younger self just starting out his cooking career some advice, what would it be?
Education, travelling, listening/paying attention and working hard.
When you're not running the kitchen, what do you do for fun?
Relaxing, reading, spending time with family, watching sports. Particularly football.
Describe your perfect meal.
Seared Scallops, Crispy Duck Breast, Dark Chocolate Fondant.
Do you hang out with other chefs?
We all do help each other and we share ideas.
What's the general food community like in Barbados?
The food community is well-educated on the latest trends in the culinary world, as the customer’s expectations are very high and it’s the chef’s job to exceed those expectations.
You have the night off and I'm going to pay for your meal. What restaurant do you go to?