Chefs demonstrate culinary mastery


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ST. THOMAS - Local and celebrity chefs are teaming up tonight to raise money for the V.I. Education Department's culinary programs.

It is the second year of Ultimate Flavors of the Islands, a gastronomical fundraising event organized by Banco Popular that takes place at the Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort.

The public is invited to come out and experience cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs, a cooking competition by local chefs and eat their fill of bite size treats prepared by more than 20 local restaurants.

The two-day event began Thursday night with a food and wine pairing put on by the visiting chefs.

Today, the culinary exploration begins at 10 a.m. with a free workshop titled "Charcuterie: The Art of Salting and Curing" taught by chef instructor Jeffrey Butler of the International Culinary Center, New York.

Chefs and advanced culinary arts students will have the opportunity to experience a demonstration cooking class that includes an overview of equipment, ingredients, butchery, brining and the cooking of a ham.

At 1 p.m., the visiting chefs will conduct a student mentoring session, sharing their success stories and tips with students interested in pursuing careers in culinary arts.

The evening's entertainment begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $55 in advance and $65 at the door.

In what L.A. chef Eric Greenspan called a "culinary steeplechase," three main events will be going on simultaneously in the Marriott's ballroom.

The Chef's Challenge is a competition of six local chefs preparing their signature dishes for a panel of judges.

The Celebrity Chefs Demo will feature renowned chefs Mario Pagán, George Durán, Mitch Cooper, Greenspan, Daisy Martínez, Mathayom Vacharat and Roberto Treviño, the great minds behind restaurants in Puerto Rico, New York, Los Angeles, St. Thomas and St. John.

Greenspan is one of the celebrity chefs showing off his skills at tonight's event. He is chef and owner of The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire in Los Angeles. He has battled - and won - on Iron Chef, and has appeared on numerous television shows.

"I'm slowly planting my roots here in the Caribbean," Greenspan said. "I love it out here, it's like my favorite place in the world to come."

He was at Taste of St. Croix last year, but this is Greenspan's first time on St. Thomas and first time doing the Ultimate Flavors of the Islands.

He said he is looking forward to working with the students today.

"My favorite part about being a chef is being a teacher," he said.

Greenspan said he has had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the best chefs in the world, and he always appreciates the opportunity to share what he knows with the younger generation of chefs.

"To pay that forward and be with kids, it's always a good time," he said.

He soon will open a restaurant in Los Angeles specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches, and he will make a unique grilled cheese sandwich during his demonstration tonight. He has a show on YouTube called The Melt Master, in which he takes the flavors of a region and creates a grilled cheese sandwich to reflect it. Greenspan said he wants to create a special St. Thomas-inspired sandwich in honor of his trip.

The working title?

The Tommy.

Treviño, the owner of San Juan restaurant Budatai and a former "Iron Chef" competitor, is making his second appearance as a guest chef in the Ultimate Flavors of the Islands event. He said he brings the Latin-style Caribbean spice to the event.

He said he loves the U.S. Virgin Islands, and looks forward to spending some time sampling the authentic local cuisine.

Events like this one are important to inspire the next generation of Caribbean chefs and show off how far the region has come, Treviño said.

"Ultimately, I love to see the culinary vision of the Caribbean grow," he said.

He thinks it is wonderful that St. Thomas is willing to do an event like this, to raise funds for culinary students while celebrating the culinary talent already in play.

"The Caribbean is finally saying we're here, we're doing great food and it's time that you all noticed," he said.

Banco Popular spokeswoman Gabriela Maldonado said the success of the event is growing, and local students will benefit.

"Last year we had almost 400 people. This year we're expecting to pass that based on ticket sales, so we're doing pretty good," she said.

For more information about the event, go to www.flavorsbancopopular.com.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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