A handful of odd jobs and an explosion couldn’t keep Shane Hughes out of the kitchen. Flavours’ executive chef shares his inspirations and fears (but not his signature recipe).
When did you start cooking?
About 1993. I was 18 or 19, and I started working at the restaurant of Casa Blanca Hotel I worked there for five or six years, then went to Cap Juluca Hotel to do purchasing.
Cooking to purchasing?
There was a minor mishap at Casa Blanca.
The accident at Casa Blanca scared me, too. Usually in the morning, when you get to the restaurant, there is an open grill and you have to light the pilot. Apparently one of the gas knobs was left on overnight, so when I went over to light the pilot, there was an explosion, and I was burnt. My mom told me to get a different job.
After 5 years at Cap Juluca, I took a night job cooking at Straw Hat Restaurant but quickly came to Flavours, which was in the older La Vue building. Flavours closed down with the intent to rebuild, so I took a day job as a plumber and cooked at Johnno’s at night.
What made you come back to Flavours?
I was always comfortable here. Kirk [the owner] and I are cousins and close friends. I wasn’t sure how long it would take them to reopen, but I knew I would come back.
Have you had any official training?
No. I started by watching my grandmother cook – she was really good. Over the years, I started reading books and researching new methods on the internet. Once you understand ingredients that go well together, it’s easier to come up with new dishes.
I started cooking because it was the most popular job at the time — any other job would have been difficult to find or sustain. But once I started cooking, I realized that I was good at it, and I fell in love.
What your signature dish?
My parmesan cheese-crusted grouper. I’m good at my steaks, but still I just love doing my grouper. I remember at the old Flavours restaurant, we decided to do something cheesy, because everybody loves cheese [laughs], so that’s how I came up with the crusted grouper. It was a risk, but since then, it’s been one of the most popular dishes at Flavours.
My latest favourite is the crab-stuffed shrimp. I’m not a fan of shrimp because I think that basic cooked shrimp is very boring. That’s why I try to put the crab in, for great flavour. The words “crab-stuffed shrimp” sell themselves. But you’ve got to use really big shrimp [laughs].
Willing to share your signature recipe with the world?
Naaaah [laughs], I want people to come here! I gave the recipe to a chef friend of mine. He tried it, but it didn’t turn out as good as mine. This dish is close to my heart.
Do you cook at home?
Hardly! I’ll eat wherever there’s food as long as its not my own cooking [laughs]. I think a lot of chefs have that problem – we get so used to our own cooking that we just don’t eat it any more. On the rare occasion that I do cook at home, it’s oxtail.
What is your biggest fear in the kitchen?
I do not like to be in the spotlight. When I was made Head Chef at Flavours, it was nerve wracking; it’s one thing to get a job, but it’s another to prove to everyone that you do it best. I’m afraid of letting people down.
Other than that, I have no fears. I know that I won’t be lighting any more pilots any time soon. Somebody else does that for me [laughs].
Do you have a favourite chef whom you admire?
In all my years of cooking, I’ve liked and respected George Reid because he takes pride in his work. I met him at Cap Juluca — his kitchen was always clean.
If you weren’t a chef, what would you be?
I’ve done other jobs, but my passion was always being a chef. I don’t know what else I would do, and I’m glad I found an avenue that I stuck with. At this point in my life, I don’t think anything else would be as rewarding.