It’s that time of the year again when all the talented culinary and bartending pros within Marriott International compete for the coveted “Master of the Craft” title. Last year, we were overjoyed when our very own Sherene Hutchison competed against 2,200 chefs in the Americas and came out #1 by impressing the judges with a dish that included pan-seared salmon, roasted pumpkin purée with lemon, roasted zucchini and gremolata.
The “Masters of the Craft,” which is an internal competition of Marriott International, involves notable chefs and mixologists facing off “Iron Chef style” by creating their best concoctions from unique ingredients. We are thrilled to reveal that Damian Manfre, Junior Sous Chef at Anchor & Den, has been chosen for the next round of the competition and will be representing the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort in Washington D.C. next month!
Damian hails from the beautiful country of Argentina, where his culinary influences come from the roots of French and Spanish gastronomy. Damian's passion for cooking started at the tender age of nine, when he would help his grandfather with the Sunday “Asado.” He studied at the Instituto de Gatronomía Argentino, in his hometown of Rosario and graduated in 2007. He worked as a Stagier in two 3*** Michelin starred restaurants in Spain and France, including one of Martin Berasategui’s establishments, who holds the title of 10 Michelin stars around Europe.
From the beginning, Damian always knew that he wanted to work for the leading hotel group in the world, Marriott International. Here we speak to him about what inspired him to become a Chef, why he loves working with the A&D team, plus so much more!
A&D: Tell us about your background as a Chef.
DM: I started when I was 17 years-old in one of the restaurants in my city, Rosario. I started really young and I worked there for around 2-3 years and then I had the opportunity to travel around my country. I worked in the South of Argentina, in Patagonia, for a couple of years and then the next big step in my career was going outside Argentina to work in Martin Berasategui’s three Michelin-starred restaurant in the Basque Country, Spain. It was an amazing experience.
A&D: How did you know that you wanted to be a Chef?
DM: Half of my family is Italian and the other half is Spanish so we have a European background. The food on the table was always the main topic for my family. I remember when I was 9-years old I would always help my grandfather prepare the Asado for the family on Sundays and we are a big family of 22 people! Every Sunday my grandfather would make a big barbeque Asado and I would go to his house the day before to help him prepare. I loved that experience of watching my grandfather doing this for us with such passion, just to get the family together. It is a big tradition that I always loved being a part of. It is not just about eating the Asado, it is also about the experience of preparing it beforehand. While we were waiting for the Asado to be ready, we would eat some cold meats and cheese and even drink some beer. When we make the Asado for either lunch or dinner, it would take at least 5-6 hours. It is a whole meeting. We really enjoyed it.
I remember at 10-years old I said to my mom, “I want to be a Chef.” But my mom asked if I would rather be an architect or an engineer like my dad because at the time in Argentina, being a Chef wasn’t considered a career like it is today. I always remember that moment – it was crucial for me.
When I moved to Patagonia I was only 20 years-old and two years later I had the opportunity to go to Europe so I started young. And then I came back to Argentina for a few years and now I am here, in the Cayman Islands and it’s been a year. The island is very unique. The views are amazing. I’ve had the opportunity to travel but I have never seen a place like this before. It really is paradise.
When I applied for the job, I really wanted to work for a big brand like Marriott to professionally develop my career and since it is such a global brand there are so many opportunities. Also within this property – everyone is working towards the same goal and objectives. The spirit in the kitchen is a wonderful thing – I really feel comfortable being here; since the first day. Everyone is really great. It is a really nice place to work. It is also multicultural. We have 12 cultures working in the kitchen.
Now we are #1 in Grand Cayman and Seven Mile Beach on TripAdvisor, an amazing achievement for the team!
With every restaurant that I worked at, I learned something important from each place. When you travel, your head changes. It is a continuous learning journey. This is a good thing; you have to get used to different cultures. When travelling, you understand things that you never get when you are in your comfort zone. Then you improve. If you are in the comfort zone all the time, you aren’t challenged and you don’t improve. I think that being out of your comfort zone is where you do your best work!
A&D: What was your inspiration for the dish?
DM: The inspiration behind the dish is through the local flavours, like the seasoning peppers, local mangoes and the Scotch Bonnet, which represent the island. I used fresh flavours so it is really a light dish – something you can eat when you are on the beach or at our oceanside restaurant Veranda.
What was difficult was combining the scallops with the sweet potato. I had the idea to make a pickle out of the sweet potato to get the acidity throughout the whole dish. It was something that was challenging but worked really well.
A&D: What are you excited about for the future of the foodie scene in Cayman?
DM: It is changing really fast. We have a lot of products on the island and our responsibility is to try to incorporate these local products in our restaurants and support our local suppliers, as well as showing off a bit of the Cayman Islands to our guests. At our property we always try to use local and fresh ingredients. We also have a lot of theme nights and big foodie events like our A&D Sessions, Cayman Cookout, Taste of Cayman; which are introducing Cayman to the international culinary scene. I think there will be more visitors coming to Cayman, specifically for the food!