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Hotseat - Yolanda Pond

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Yolanda Pond is more than just a cook. She was recently selected as a culinary lead in the Food Network and Cooking Channel's annual New York City Wine and Food Festival (NYCWFF) which will be held from October 15 to 18 in NYC. Pond was selected from amongst hundreds of persons via a phone interview after sending in her resume. The festival strives to end hunger in NY. Pond tells us about her life in the kitchen in this week's Hot Seat.

How would you describe yourself?

I work every day to improve myself and my skills. I believe that's part of becoming better at what I do. I have high expectations for my results because I'm confident in my ability to produce.

You were born in Dominica. How did you end up in St. Maarten?

My mom Bernadette Durand migrated to Saba to work. I joined her when I was three. I spent 15 years in Saba and moved to St. Maarten after graduating from high school at age 18. Most of my career was in banking. St. Maarten is home.

Where were you educated; and what did you study?

I attended Saba Sacred Heart Primary School and Saba Comprehensive High School. I studied Office Procedures and was not sure what career I wanted to pursue. I am currently finishing the Gourmet Cooking and Catering course online; I'm scheduled to finish in December.

How (and when) did you discover your love for cooking?

I loved cooking since I was about 15. I had a friend who I would help with mies en plas whenever he cooked and I fell in love with it since then. It became my passion and I decided at age 22 that it would be my career.

How did you hone this love?

Honestly, I just watched the cooking channels over the years, trying a lot of their recipes and eventually creating my own, while having dinner parties with friends as constructive critics. That's why most of the time people may hear me refer to myself as a chef by nature. Besides that, the cooking and catering course gave me a whole world of knowledge and made me love food even more.

What is it that you love about cooking and cuisine?

It's everything behind the scenes! The fragrance of garlic and onions frying up, the sizzle the oil makes when it hits the hot pan and the site of a perfectly roasted pork tenderloin coming out of the oven. It's a joy I'm proud to know and it speaks to all of my senses.

Events you have catered to?

Most of my catering has been done for private/intimate gatherings and close friends: birthday parties; business meetings; and I've done catering for the Red Cross and Foundation InfoBizz.

How would you describe your personal cooking style?

At first it was untrained, clueless and lucky; but it's now comforting, venturesome and always with love.

What differentiates you from other chefs/cooks in St. Maarten?

My presentation! I'm not afraid to play with spices and seasonings. If it says for fish, I would put it in rice! My flavours are important to me, no meal can taste alike, but presentation is just as important and I have just that. When I plate a meal, people usually say it's too pretty to eat.

How can someone get in touch with you to cater?

For now I'm putting all my focus into my studies and getting my business up and going as it requires a lot of time and effort. As soon as I'm at that point, everyone will know.

What are some of the challenges you encounter in this field?

I don't look at them as challenges, I embrace them. I always say: "God wants me to go through this for a reason. There is something to be learnt or an opportunity in disguise."

What are your all-time favourite personal dishes and why?

Pastas, any style! I love French and Italian foods; the history and love of food started there.

What's your most popular dish?

Shrimp pasta.

What is your dream holiday venue?

Italy! So I can experience making pasta and bread from scratch their way.

What message do you have for youngsters who want to follow in your footsteps?

The best cooks develop their own styles. Learn the basics and if you don't want to work another day in your life, find your style and do what you love. The days you feel like giving up are when you should work harder. Avoid negative people and take risks!

What else are you involved in outside of being a cook?

I'm a facilitator of Real Talk and Girl Power for the AIDS Foundation; a Culinary Lead for the Food Bank of NY (it's all year round to end hunger) and Get Your Book Out There (a group that does self-publishing).

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

As a black woman who goes down in history as a published author with a cookbook or two while operating my own restaurant, which will be like nothing seen or tasted before.

Hobbies?

Cooking obviously! Spare fishing, fashion, decorating (new projects), event planning and spending time with my family.

Pet peeve?

Nothing annoys me more than poor customer service.

Philosophy on life?

If you want to do something, do it with everything you've got. Be willing to go where nobody else will to make it happen.

What's your favourite type of music; what artistes do you listen to?

I'm a West Indian girl, definitely Soca and Dancehall. Machel Montana is my husband, but he doesn't know that as yet (laughs).

If you could ask any three persons (dead or alive) to a dinner party, who would they be and what would you cook for them?

Guy Ferrari – I'd cook something roasted, like pork tenderloin in a sandwich; Giada De Laurentiis – I'd cook an Italian dish; my grandmother Ketina Pond (deceased) – I would definitely do salt fish and dumplings DA style.