Crowning Achievements in the Kitchen
They say kitchens are hot. And they are! These two talented chefs bring the heat and know exactly what to do with it. Acclaimed for their skills, revered for their creativity… and known for their attitude, these ladies are the soul of two of the island’s premier restaurants. Now, how hot is that ?
— By Timothy Dugdale and Amie Watson
— Photography: Kenneth Theysen
Rhea Gilkes’ fine dining culinary career path started when she hustled her way into a stage at The Cliff in 2001 while working part-time at her sister's school lunch canteen.
From there, she snagged a coveted position at L’Acajou, the signature restaurant at Five Diamond property Sandy Lane, where she trained for restaurant and competition cooking with chefs Frederick Foster and Michael Hinds. Her big break came in 2003, when she won the Prime Minister’s Scholarship from the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA) followed by a NIFCA Professional Gold Medal in Culinary Arts, in 2004. Ten years and several international stages later, she won the first ever Slow Food Iron Chef Barbados, which featured local and organic produce and inspired her to join Slow Food. Now, she incorporates local produce into her menu at Fusion Rooftop, the sleek, third-floor Holetown restaurant that features French, Italian, sushi and other Asian dishes.
Birth place: St. Lucy and St. Peter. Half my family lives in each.
Birth country: Barbados.
Favorite fruit: Golden apple. When it’s younger, it’s blander and sweeter and as it ripens it becomes more tart. It just kind of makes you happy, like, “I’m going to get golden apples! Yay!”.
Favorite vegetable: Christophine (aka “chayote”). They’re prickly on the outside and fluorescent green.
Favorite spice: West Indian curry blend. It’s got garam masala, cumin and turmeric in it. I add cardamom.
Favourite dish: Tuna tartare with avocado, fish and herbs. My signature version, though, is seasoned liked a salsa, with yellowfin tuna, coriander, red onion, Tabasco, lime juice and olive oil, so it’s spicy and tart.
Favourite dessert: Anything with bitter chocolate.
Favorite wine: On a regular day, traditional Rieslings from Alsace. When I go to Montreal, mead. It doesn't sell here, but there's nothing quite like honey wine.
Favourite kitchen tool: Japanese knives. As a female, my hands are smaller and they make my work easier. When I switched from German steel to Japanese steel, it was like a whole new world of awesomeness.
Favourite food city: Montreal.
Favourite vacation place: Croatia.
A chef who most inspires you: Anthony Bourdain. Sad that he’s passed, but reading “Kitchen Confidential” opened my eyes to what the kitchen is really like. I appreciated that he went through adversity, came back, and was even more successful.
Alicia Olton studied locally before heading to Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa, Canada, in 2009 to perfect her pastry skills.
Though she prefers to be in the kitchen rather than in the spotlight, she made the Barbados Culinary Team in 2007 and travelled with them to the annual Taste of the Caribbean culinary competition in Miami before winning a Professional Gold Medal in Culinary Arts at Barbados’ National Independence Festival of Creative Arts. Olton has been at the Coral Reef Club for more than eight years. She previously worked at Aqua Restaurant & Lounge, Sandy Lane, the Fairmont Royal Pavilion, Glitter Bay, and Almond Beach Village. Now, she mentors younger pastry chefs, one of whom travelled to Miami last year with the Barbados national team himself. Her incredible brownies are, fortunately, on the Coral Reef Club’s menu.
Birth place: Bridgetown.
Birth country: Barbados.
Favourite fruit: Pineapple.
Favourite vegetable: Broccoli. When I was small, I didn’t like it, but an ad on television said cheese made everything taste good, so I tried it and it was good!
Favourite spice: Cinnamon. I like it because you can use it both in pastry and in savoury cuisine.
Favourite dish: Eggplant lasagna.
Favourite dessert: Surprisingly, I do not like chocolate, but if you give me a warm chocolate brownie with just vanilla ice cream, you’ve got me!
Favourite wine: Catena Malbec.
Favourite kitchen tool: A serrated paring knife. You can do most everything with it, from cutting a tomato to peeling pears.
Favourite food city: New York, because you can stand on one corner and eat like you’re in Greece and then on another corner and eat like you’re in Japan.
Favourite vacation place: Anything on a cruise.
A chef who most inspires you: Carl Rice, my pastry tutor at The Barbados Community College Hospitality Institute. He got me interested in pastry.