Humble, resilient, passionate and determined: these are the words that describe Chef Brentfield Lettsome.
As a child growing up in Vanterpool Estate, East End, Chef Brentfield could be found in the kitchen cooking his favorite meal at the time, macaroni and ground beef. He loves to eat and naturally his passion for cooking evolved. He didn’t always envision himself as a chef, he considered a number of potential careers such as a pilot, graphic designer, cartoonist or video game designer. However, he did not feel passion for any of them.
There was a point where he did not know what to study in college and his mother encouraged him to enroll in the culinary section of the Technical and Vocational Education Training Program (TVET) at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, where he would graduate at the top of his class.
While at the TVET Program he came to the realization that this was his passion. He enjoyed going through the program. One of his favorite memories was cooking for the HLSCC Cafeteria and watching people enjoy the food he prepared. This drove him to want to pursue the culinary arts even more intently.
After completing the TVET program, he was drafted to represent the British Virgin Islands on the Culinary Team for the culinary competition in Miami. Everything felt like it was moving quickly. He never took part in any individual competitions, however, he was honored to be a part of the team which won the first Gold medal for the BVI. As he was one of the first young junior chefs, he was privileged to be a part of history in the BVI. When he started cooking, he never thought he would be a part of history. He thought his passion was just cooking and taking photos, but at that point, he realized that this was his life and he wanted to have a career in it. He was able to gain a lot of experience on the job while working at Treasure Isle and with his mentor Chef Kenneth Molyneaux at Tropical Fusion.
August 2017 changed his life drastically. He was scheduled for a vacation at the end of the month. However, he was monitoring Hurricane Irma coming off of the coast of Africa and watching as it was getting stronger. He considered delaying his vacation but on the prompting of his family he decided to go on a much needed and long-awaited vacation in Las Vegas, Nevada. Hurricane Irma passed over the BVI and caused major destruction causing him to be stuck in the United States. The closest he could’ve gotten to the BVI was New York where he stayed with his cousin. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise but he could not see it at that point. The restaurant he worked at was destroyed in the Storm and if he stayed in the BVI longer, he wouldn’t have gotten the opportunities and exposure he got in New York. While stuck, he felt a bit depressed because this was not what he had planned for his life and seeing the destruction back home did not help his depression. He just desperately wanted to go back home. His cousin told him about the BVI Tourist Board office and his response was “Yea, but I want to go home”. He felt as though he was losing his mind. He then decided to call the office. While visiting the New York branch of the BVI Tourist Board Office, they helped him to build a website www.chefbrentfieldlettsome.com and a resume. He then made a portfolio. The New York branch of the BVI Tourist Board helped him a lot in his transition to the United States.
After being placed in a job that did not fit, he got a job at a restaurant named The Fat Monk in October 2017. Two months later he found part-time work at a restaurant named Penelope where he started at the salad station. In one week he was promoted to the grill station and the week after that he was asked to be the lead chef for the dinner service. As lead chef, he expedited the stations, plated the food, made sure the inventory was fully stocked and supported the team. He saw this as an opportunity to see how to run his own restaurant.
He left the Fat Monk restaurant and became full time at Penelope. Two months later, the Fat Monk would close down. He worked for Penelope for ten months until they also decided to close. He then found a job at The Marriott Time Square Edition, which had not officially opened yet and has been working there ever since.
This began as an ongoing project, so there was a lot of training and recipe testing involved for the first five months. This was a challenge and he contemplated leaving at one point. However, he stayed and the experience turned out to be enjoyable because he saw it as an opportunity to gain exposure and learn how to open his own restaurant from its inception. Since the official opening in March, he has been extremely busy without time to himself. He started really small in the BVI and thought that that is all he would be doing, but after moving to America, he was able to work his way up. Working in New York has afforded him the opportunity to cook for celebrities such as Janet Jackson, Jamie Foxx and the Son of Arnold Schwarzenegger. When asked if he would change anything if knew that the plate he cooked was for a celebrity, his response was, “Those things don’t really stoke me. I just like to see guests treated as VIP. I would cook the same way for anybody.”
He has been in the food industry for eight years and his favorite part about being a chef is just serving the people. It brings him great joy to see the smile on their faces when he presents a dish. This is what gives him satisfaction: when people enjoy what he does. He sleeps, eats and breathes cooking. He is inspired by his strong support system which includes the support from friends and family and the customers and guests. To see that they enjoy it keeps him going, along with just seeing the expression on their faces.
He also attributes his drive to Chef Kenneth Molyneaux who taught him a lot in the five years he worked with him. He really admires Chef Kenneth Molyneax because he gave him a chance and passed on his knowledge and expertise to him. This has inspired Chef Brentfield to do the same for someone else in the future. He also admires other local chefs like Chef Emron Ashton, Chef Mack Thompson and Chef Ansony Solomon. Some of the best advice he received over the years include: “Always keep at it, be serious about the career and make sure you have a passion for it.” He stated “Don’t slack off. A lot of people do jobs without passion. They’re just doing it for the money. Don’t do it for the money, do it because you have a passion for it. The money is going to come after.” He also said that some of the worst advice that he received over the years was to “just use salt and pepper.” He never took that advice.
In the United States, he has gotten numerous opportunities to showcase his talent and represent the British Virgin Islands. The first event in the US was Caribbean Eeek, which was a celebrity chef programme. He got to present one dish, which was plantain wheal, with a snapper mousse with curry and topped with microgreens. That was one of his biggest events and it just pushed him to just keep going.
He also worked along with the Tastes of Tennis events which included events in New York in 2017 and Washington, DC in early 2019. In June 2019 he also promoted the BVI Food Fete in New York where he made Shrimp and Grits with a Caribbean Twist. He added rum from the Caribbean and flavoured the grits with herbs. The shrimp he made with a citrus mango sauce with some arugula as garnish. The response was amazing.
In the upcoming year, he is excited for The BVI Food Fete in November, and he is taking part in Tastes of Tortola. He wants to show the attendees the things he learned here in the BVI and in the US and combine it to create a unique cuisine.
If he had to leave New York to cook elsewhere he would go to Maryland, Dubai, Italy or England to try their cuisine and to be in an environment where he could learn more about their cooking styles.
One day while in the kitchen, Chef Brent sustained a slight burn that prevented him from using one hand to cook. At the Culinary Team Competition in Miami, he saw a chef with a broken hand. That chef did not let that broken hand stop him. He continued the competition cooking with one hand and won a bronze medal. Chef Brentfield reflected on that chef at the competition in Miami and decided that if he could do it and win a bronze medal, he could finish the day with one hand too. He used that experience to practice in the event that he would have to cook with one hand in the future.
His cooking style is described as American food with a Caribbean Twist. He looks for food on Instagram and sees how he could add a Caribbean twist to it. As a matter of fact, he always looks for ways to infuse Caribbean flavours in every dish. His favourite foods to work with are steak, snapper and plantain. He has the ability to see different ingredients and food from different cultures find ways to make it into a Caribbean inspired dish. Caribbean chefs are exposed to different flavors so there may be opportunities to showcase different flavors in common dishes.
He uses common ingredients from the region such as sugar cane, lemongrass, local fish, passion fruit and tamarind.
He also loves seafood because we have fresh seafood available here. So one of his specialties is seafood and pasta. If he were to make a local trend, he said he would make fungi a trending dish. He would also like to see who could make the best fungi, cornmeal or even a snapper dish (which is his specialty). When asked if he would change the national dish what would he change it to, he struggled to come up with an answer. He responded “I honestly can’t think about that because the national dish speaks for itself. We have local fish and we can’t really change that. That’s like me going to McDonalds and asking them to make everything vegetarian.” He would recommend every restaurant in the BVI to serve our national dish. When asked what food he recommends a tourist to the BVI to try he stated, “No club sandwiches, please. Try the lobster.”
One food he hates to make is club sandwiches. “I wish I could have a petition to have it discontinued off of every menu.”
While working at Treasure Isle, the Head Chef at the time would pass on large orders of club sandwiches to him. He would do so many club sandwiches that he began to despise the order. He created a system that would enable him to make a club sandwich in under two minutes, making him an expert at the dish he despised most.
In ten years Chef Brentfield Lettsome sees himself getting more exposure and expanding his brand and going on a Food Network show. His career goals are to own his own restaurant and do cartering and private cooking. When asked if he was given $5,000, how would he spend it, he replied “Honestly, I would put that to an investment into a future business. From there I would mentor somebody and try to help people.” When the figure was changed from $5,000 to 1 million dollars he said, “The same thing, but buy more businesses and help more people.”
His advice for a novice getting into the industry: “Make sure it’s your passion and go for it. Network with people in the industry and try to get a good mentor. Be open to criticism and be open-minded and do not take anything personally. Do everything to the best of your ability and follow your heart and your dreams. Remember, there will always have somebody in the kitchen that will think that they are better than you. You’re the best person in your own way. Be open to new ideas.”
He would like to thank God, His mother, Valerie Lettsome, who encouraged him to pursue this career, Chef Kenneth Moleneux, his mentor, the BVI tourist board, that helped him a lot especially in his hard times in New York, his siblings, his family, and the people who support him. He attributes his humility to his upbringing in a Christian home. He uses those qualities taught to him in everything he does. The words that keep him going are the words of his late father, Birton Lettsome: “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, and accept what God sends.”