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Haughton Campbell is Couples Swept Away's top chef

Published:Monday | June 25, 2018 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera
Executive chef, Simone Haughton Campbell (left) watches with excitement as Gleaner senior write,r Janet Silvera, checks out her latest menu.
Executive chef, Simone Haughton Campbell.
Executive chef, Simone Haughton Campbell.

Simone Haughton Campbell's ascension to executive chef at Couples Swept Away in Negril, took a total of "20 fabulous years" at the resort, the 44-year-old says.

Today, she boasts the title of being the first and only female executive chef to manage the 'food affairs' of a large hotel chain in Jamaica. The position of executive chef, is one usually obtained by expatriates trained in places such as Austria, Germany, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

However, Campbell's rise to the pinnacle of her culinary career, started humbly, at the feet of her grandmother, as a young child growing up in Hartford, Westmoreland, and was cemented later at her alma mater, the Frome Technical High School.

"There (Frome), I developed a love for food, so by the time I was in ninth grade, I was already sure that Food, was what I wanted to pursue, so when I got to 10th grade, it was what I chose for my vocational area," the mother of four, who is also married to a high-ranking executive chef, explained.

"I grew up in an Indian family and my grandmother did a lot of cooking; a lot of Indian food. She taught me and I think it developed from there, but it really hit me, while I was going to school, that chemistry, accounts and science - I was not excited at all about those subjects. But when I went to food classes, I felt really excited. I actually felt like I wanted to teach the class," she said, smiling.

In seventh grade, because of her "food exuberance", Haughton Campbell, was constantly chided for wanting to "take over" her Food and Nutrition teacher's class. By ninth grade, she was already seen as a class act when it came to cooking, so much so, that she was invited to prepare lunch for the institution's DaCosta Cup football squad and visiting teams on match days, as well as other major school-related events.

However, it was while on work experience at Hedonism II, that she knew for sure that she was destined to work in the hotel industry. At age 19, she spearheaded the opening of the Richard's Restaurant in Savanna-la-Mar, and a few years later, her grand opportunity came when she landed a job at Couples Swept Away as a waitress, which though not the ideal post she had wanted, gave her a toe in.

Her potential was almost immediately realised by the head chef at the time, after she began re-arranging the placement of the food on the plates, impressing him so greatly that he requested she work in the kitchen instead.

"I would order the food for the guests; the food would come out from the kitchen and I would stand there and rearrange it to look the way I felt it would titillate the appetite," she told Outlook.

Having grasped the opportunity, there was no stopping her after that. Haughton Campbell, moved from trainee cook to Level III in three months, then skipped Level II to become a Level I. She rapidly moved from the resort's veggie-bar to the pantry where she worked for five years.

From the pantry, she was elevated to the range where she was exposed to a wide range of hot cooking, including Italian, Tex Mex, French and meats, sauces and seafood.

"I decided that is where I would make my mark," she said. "I was promoted to sous chef after four years, did a lot of training of younger staff. Five years ago, I moved up to executive sous chef where I became the assistant chef."

It was during that period she pursued her first degree at the Western Hospitality Institute (WHI) in Montego Bay, while balancing working full time at the resort and, according to her "while still trying to be a good wife and a good mom".

"WHI topped off what I needed in order to move to the next level to become an executive chef," she said.

With respect to her promotion, Haughton Campbell is happy that Couples has given her the opportunity, and is hoping that it will open doors for other female chefs in what is currently a male-dominated field.

"Being a chef is not a one man thing. You have to really have a strong team. There is a saying that when you are an executive chef, your management team makes you or breaks you ... . I think I have a great team here," she said.

She manages 100 members of the food and beverage department, six restaurants and the millions of dollars budgeted to purchase food for the 312-room resort.