What got you started in the restaurant business ?
At fifteen years old in New Jersey, I found out that if you had a job after school, you could leave early. I hated school, so I was looking for any reason to leave early! It’s difficult, at that age, to find a job in anything other than the restaurant business, so I got a job cleaning spinach and lettuce and preparing vegetables. After a while, it was no longer about getting out of school early; it became enjoyable.
I told my parents that I wanted to go to cooking school, and they laughed. I was the pickiest eater in the world. I found out that there is a school called The Culinary Institute of America, and it was like the Harvard of cooking schools.
There was a long waiting list of applicants, because you’ve had to have worked with two alumni of the school for six months each so I worked for them both back to back. I then applied to the school, finally. I got in, but I still had a bit of a wait, so I kept working in different kitchens. I completed the Associate’s Chef program and learned so much. Back then, they only offered the Associate program—now, they offer the Bachelor’s in Management, but I was just really into the cooking. Management has occurred by default.
Why did you come to Anguilla?
My husband and I opened up a little gourmet takeout place in Philadelphia. We wanted to raise a family, so we moved down to a smaller town in central Pennsylvania. We sold the Restaurant in Philadelphia to open a second one, and then we sold the second to do a third one, each time getting a bit bigger. We decided at the ten-year point of the third restaurant to evaluate our lives—Are we happy where we are? Should we go anywhere else in the world? The Caribbean won. We narrowed it down to certain islands; then, we visited the other islands on our list. Anguilla was the last one, and we just loved it. It just felt right. It’s small, laid back, the people are so nice, and there’s a big restaurant scene here. We liked that people would come here not only for the beaches but also to eat out.
How old were your kids when you moved here?
Three, five and fourteen. We told them, “We’re moving to this island, and you get only one suitcase, so fill it wisely.” They packed books and clothes—no toys. I thought that was very interesting.
How does having a restaurant in the US compare to having in Anguilla?
The US was a lot less personal. You’re dealing with big corporations. Here, I’m dealing with the suppliers, and I can call and have direct conversations, so it’s a lot more intimate.
What is your culinary style?
I call it “Cuisine of the Sun”. I feature foods from the warmer places around the globe, because I think that fits with the weather here. I didn’t want it to be strictly Caribbean, because I like dabbling with other countries’ flavours. I incorporate Indian and Northern African, because I really like those flavours, but if I had to commit to a style, it would be Southeast Asian because of their balance between salt, sweet and spicy.
You’re a picky eater, so what is your favourite dish?
Not anymore! [laughs] I eat anything. My parents were in disbelief. I think something in me flipped while I was in cooking school. My favourite dish here is the conch carpaccio using thinly sliced meat from the tender part of the conch; it has the Southeast Asian flavours, and I do an Indonesian rice salad to go with it.
Do you use fresh ingredients?
I have a hydroponic system in the back, and some of my cooks have started growing stuff here in a little space we have. I buy a lot from local farmers as well as the local fishermen; I have a guy who brings me tuna, a guy who brings me wahoo, and a guy who will bring me unusual fish that I’ve never worked with.
Prior to your first job, did you have any idea what you wanted to be when you grew up?
I’m sure that if you asked me when I was younger, I’d probably say a coroner or a scientist of some kind. I am really interested in anatomy and physiology, so I’d probably be a serial killer profiler for the FBI
What were you in a previous life?
I might have been a maritime explorer. If it was allowed, I would be a pirate, because I love exploring and I love to sail. I got into sailing as soon as we got here, and now I’m up to two boats. I sailed with my father from about age seven to ten on the weekends, along with my mother and sisters.
What other plans do you have for Veya?
Aside from the newly added Mediterranean-inspired lounge, that’s it for now. I think of all sorts of things every day that I want to do, and I drive my husband crazy coming up with all these ideas. He keeps me grounded, because otherwise I’d be like, “Hey let’s do a hotel!”
What is your favourite tool in the kitchen?
I am really into knives. I always have new knives that I’m fond of and become obsessed with how sharp they are.
Have you had any major accidents in the kitchen?
I had a horrible burn at our second restaurant. I was experimenting with caramel to make caramel custard; I put them in Pyrex dishes, which shattered in my hands, and I got third degree burns. I lost complete use of my hands for a while, so when I see caramel, I still cringe.
Do you have a funny kitchen story?
I like pulling pranks on people. I would empty the big refrigerator and have one of my cooks go in and wait. Then, I would send someone to get something and he would jump out with a scary mask.
I call it ’Cuisine of the Sun’ [with] foods from warmer places around the globe… I think that fits here.
Here, we put things like rubber frogs or fake spiders, so now, everyone gets in on playing tricks.
Which chef do you look up to?
I am a big fan of Anthony Bourdain. I like the way he writes, and he is really passionate. I also admire Chef David Chang. He does a show on PBS called “The Mind of a Chef.” I’ve eaten his food but I’ve never met him. We get so many celebrity chefs coming here. I’ve met Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali, Todd English and Mark Forgione, and when they come in, I’m in awe.
We also have other celebrities who come here; we’ve had Meryl Streep, Dustin Hoffman, Liam Neeson, Paul McCartney and Harrison Ford. We get writers, too—Michael Connelly and Dan Brown. I’m equally in awe of writers. I get intimidated at first, but once you start talking to them, they’re the same as the rest of us… just regular people.