Chefs defy stereotypes partly because it’s their job – not just to think outside of it but to reinvent the box. They might fan that spark through formal training or not, but each of them represents a new flavor in the universe of taste.
Cindy Hutson won’t claim to be entirely self-taught, but like all great chefs, she started early and owes a lot to family and friends. She infused the styles and flavors of her life, and even though she’s a high-profile chef now, she keeps learning.
Growing up in small-town New Jersey and visiting a friend’s Portuguese restaurant in New York, Hutson developed a fascination with different foods by the age of 9. She watched cooking shows on TV and her family encouraged her to explore the kitchen. Somebody had to get some good out of it.
“Mom hated cooking, but I loved to eat,” she says. Seafood was one of the first fascinations.
Often fishing with her father in the Atlantic, she felt the call and spent nearly a decade in commercial fishing, culminating in a captain’s license and operating a charter boat from Miami to Bimini by the 1980s.
“I would sell the catch of the day off the docks, but there was always enough left for me to cook,” Hutson says. “So I cooked all the fresh ingredients in every new way and became very proficient at it.”
As the westernmost island of The Bahamas, Bimini was a gateway that called her farther out to sea where lie a rich culinary world fed by centuries of European fusion with Island traditions. Hutson met Norma Shirley, “the Julia Child of Jamaica,” and her son Delius Shirley, who would become a partner in life, business and cooking.
Beef was an important feature on fine dining menus, and part of Hutson’s emerging style that blended French Provincial with local Island flavors in “The Cuisine of the Sun.”
The two brought that style to the Miami area in the 1990s and soon rose to the five-star level. Somewhere in the passion for cooking and kitchen camaraderie, Hutson had become a chef. She didn’t start out with full confidence, however.
“I thought Norma was going to be our chef, but Delius said I should write the menu,” she recalls. “It was 17 hours a day, seven days a week and I worried and cried until the first reviews came out. I didn’t know if this was working.”
Was it ever. Critical acclaim and accolades, as well as positive feedback from customers, soon provided the confidence.