A dab of passion, a teaspoonful of innate talent, a cup of dedication and a smile that will light up a room are the ingredients that make up Hugh Sinclair, better known as South Florida’s own Chef Irie Spice, a culinary artist who is executive chef of Irie Spice Inc. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Spice, 43, grew up in the Cayamanas Estates, where his parents instilled in him the values of determination and hard work.
Some of the dishes he loves to prepare are tamarind braised pork with watermelon salsa and scotch bonnet flat bread, tamarind rum glazed shrimp w/ boniato mashed potatoes and jerk BBQ glazed salmon w/ white bean tomato ragu.
”Once I decided to begin my career as a personal chef, I knew from very early that the type of food I made was going to remain true to my culture and true to my heart; which is Caribbean food…not necessarily Jamaican or one specific island,” he said. He has worked personally with former Miami Heat star Lamar Odom, actress and singer Queen Latifah, R&B vocal artist Mario Winans and many others. He said his greatest joy is to see the delight in his clients’ faces after a meal, especially when it is a type of food they would not normally eat.
For all his success, experimenting with flavors and creating exquisite cuisine hasn't always been Spice’s forte. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Architecture from the University of Florida. During those college days, he entered the world of planning and designing components for the construction of buildings.
Faced with a choice between engineering and architecture, he chose the latter.
Though it was difficult and extremely time consuming, he said, he stuck it out because he held fast to the value of perseverance, the one that says, “once you start something, you must follow through and see it to the end.”
That attitude led him to the top 13 of his class in the start of his junior year. He later began working for firms that needed architectural talent. Although he embodied expert qualities within his craft, he began to feel dissatisfied about his journey. ”I couldn’t see myself being what I was taught in school, that you were going to be a proprietor and that you will have your own architectural business. I just wasn’t progressing the way I think I should have been,” he said. But as one spark simmered down, another one ignited. Full of doubts, however, Spice had to decide if he was really prepared to walk away from a full-time occupation and enroll in culinary school. ”I had to consider leaving what I went to school for. I was really so conflicted about this decision that it actually took me two years to make it," he said.
After talking with his mother, friends and family, he decided to enter Johnson & Wales University, and never looked back. He felt no unease about his choice, confirming for him that he was on the right track. While working part-time at an architectural firm to make ends meet, Spice completed his culinary courses and graduated in 1999. Chef Wayne Bryan, a professor at Johnson & Wales, said he saw nothing but a successful culinary career lined up for Spice when Spice was a student.
“He just had that natural passion…a passion for learning this industry," Bryan said, adding "…you could see that in all his work, his attitude, the way he performed in class." Spice transitioned into working full time at restaurants such as the Bimini Boat Yard in Fort Lauderdale, and began to cultivate his craft as a Sous Chef in the kitchen. In 2005, he started his own personal catering company, Irie Spice Inc. He has continued to build his credibility not only through the numerous accolades and culinary prizes he has won – such as the First Place Professional Sweet Rewards Recipe Contest For Canned Sweet Potatoes in 2009 and the TomatoFest® International Tomato Recipe Contest in 2005 – but also by remaining grounded and steadfast throughout the journey. "Becoming a chef…you have a responsibility to yourself and to food. One… is to learn about food," he said. "… and two… is to truly express yourself, your culture and how you perceive food itself."
For more information on Chef Irie Spice, log onto www.iriespice.com or Facebook@Chef Irie.
Photo: Chef Irie Spice