USVI Culinary Team brings home top honors in 2014 Taste of the Caribbean competition


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ST. THOMAS - After years of competing in the Taste of the Caribbean culinary competition, the USVI Culinary Team finally took home a gold medal.

In past competitions, individual members of the team had won gold in the pastry and beverages categories, but the team had never scored high enough to make it into the overall gold category.

"I remember the first meeting we had and our commitment to work like a team and that's what we're doing. One person doesn't make any difference, the teamwork is key," said team captain Marco Sanchez, chef at the Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort.

The team took gold in both the team competitions, the street food contest and the plated dinner service competition.

During the five-day competition in Miami - June 28 to July 2 - the team and individual team members won a total of three gold medals, three silver medals, one bronze medal and two honorable mentions.

Bartender Brandon DeCloux, bartender at Sibs on the Mountain on St. Thomas, not only won two gold medals for his drinks, he won the Bartender of the Year competition.

The U.S. Virgin Islands won the Taste of the Islands street food competition for the first time, beating out all other countries who participated.

Team member George Sittig, chef at Greenside Grille Carambola Golf Course on St. Croix, said they wowed the crowd with a seafood ceviche shooter, chili rubbed lamb and cassava cakes and meatballs made with ground lamb and pork butt.

"The presentation was really, really good on it," Sittig said. "A lot of the people kept coming to the booth to get it and we ran out."

The USVI Culinary Team took gold for the plated dinner team competition, in which the team has three hours to develop and prepare an appetizer, entrée and dessert for 40 people.

The team includes three chefs, a pastry chef, a bartender and a junior chef, who must be younger than 19 and have fewer than three years of professional cooking experience.

For the plated dinner team competition, the team had a mystery basket of items to use: turnips, pork butt, okra and short ribs.

Sittig said he was in charge of the entree, which was grilled chili-rubbed short ribs on a local sweet potato puree with a citrus salad that incorporated the turnips, mango and orange and garnished with finely cut seasoned okra.

Team member Ron Duprat, chef at Sugar Bay Resort and Spa on St. Thomas, made an appetizer with the pork butt, which he marinated and roasted.

Pastry chef Ryan Cross, pastry chef at The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas, made a chocolate layer cake with soursop creme and coconut.

Sittig said the judges - many of whom have watched the USVI team for years - told team members how happy they were to see the Virgin Islands do so well at the 2014 competition.

"A lot of the judges were excited that we had kinda finally arrived," Sittig said.

The team competing was largely made up of new faces, which may have injected a new energy into the annual competition.

"I'm glad to have had the opportunity to represent the USVI with pride and honor, to bring home the gold," said Taj Siwatu, chef at Buddha Sushi Bar on St. Thomas. "The Taste of the Caribbean has been a supreme learning experience for me. Our hard work and dedication has shown."

The medals do not indicate placement against other competitors, but rather a gold, silver or bronze medal is awarded based on the total point value the judges have given the dishes.

The annual event, hosted by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, was at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Miami.

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

- Marco Sanchez, Marriott's Frenchman's Reef Beach Resort (team captain).

- Taj Siwatu, Buddha Sushi Bar (chef).

- Ryan Cross, The Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas (pastry chef).

- Brandon DeCloux, Sibs on the Mountain (bartender).

- Ron Duprat, Sugar Bay Resort and Spa (chef).

- Danika Joseph, Sugar Bay Resort and Spa (junior chef).

- George Sittig, Greenside Grille Carambola Golf Course (chef).

- Gary Klinefelter, The Buccaneer (chef).

- Michael Matthew (chef).

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