Becoming a Chef is 'Heart' Work

Story Number: NNS180510-01Release Date: 5/10/2018 8:15:00 AM
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By Joycelyn Biggs, U.S. Naval Hospital Public Affairs

GUANTANAMO BAY, Cuba (NNS) -- A successful career as a chef spanning 22 years was sparked at the age of ten when Christopher Ferguson, cook supervisor, Naval Hospital Guantanamo Bay, was tasked with preparing meals for his diabetic grandmother. Ferguson explained he prepared breakfast and lunch for his grandmother before going to school and her dinner when he returned in the afternoon.

"I had to make sure she was eating properly because of her diabetes," he said in his baritone voice with a thick Jamaican accent. "While cooking for my grandmother, I quickly discovered I love to cook."

Ferguson later attended high school in his native land of Jamaica and studied food and beverage management. After graduation, he attended Grace Kitchen and Consumer Center in Jamaica and obtained a culinary certificate.

Ferguson explained part of his training included two internships which would last six months each. At the end of his first internship, the owner of the hotel was so impressed with Ferguson's work he offered the young student a job. Ferguson explained the manager wanted to ensure he wouldn't lose the rising chef to the second planned work experience.

"He told me, I'm not going to lose you to that other hotel," Ferguson said flashing a wide grin. "So I am prepared to offer you a job right now."

With that, Ferguson's career as a chef began. It didn't take long for patrons to also recognize the talents of this 20-year-old sous chef. While working one night, he was summoned to the dining area by a customer.

The guest was so impressed with his meal he wanted to meet the person who made it. After an introduction and discussion of how the shrimp scampi was prepared, Ferguson was again presented an offer he could not refuse. The gentlemen happened to work in a different hotel and offered Ferguson a position in his facility.

Amazingly, this scenario would play itself out again and again.

Ferguson explained he was offered a job after the prime minister of Jamaica ate of his meals.

"The prime minister of Jamaica ate my food and he loved it," he said, while unsuccessfully attempting to suppress a smile.

The last offer Ferguson accepted was from an employer from Naval Station Guantanamo Bay visiting Jamaica.

When asked how he was able to master the art of cooking at such a young age, Ferguson did not hesitate to come up with an answer.

"You cannot prepare a proper meal without love in your heart," he said. "I love food, I love people and I love to see people enjoy the meals I prepare."

For the last 22 years, Ferguson has watched residents of Naval Station do just that. The opinion of many current and former residents is the hospital galley is the best galley on the island.

"The hospital galley was the best," a post read on NHGB's Facebook page. The comment was made by a former resident after viewing pictures of a surf and turf meal prepared by Ferguson and his team.

"It sure was" another former resident responded.

During the surf and turf meal, people began arriving at the galley door 20 minutes before it was scheduled to open and a line stretched from the door down the hallway and around the corner. Most did not have a doctor's appointment; the sole reason for a visit to the hospital was to partake in the surf and turf meal.

"Surf and turf is my favorite to prepare because I have the opportunity to decorate the galley and because so many people come to eat here that day, Ferguson explained. "I wish I could do another one before I leave."

Ferguson is planning to leave the island at the end of May and share his talents with a larger audience. He said he will really miss being here because this community is his family.

"I have spent more than 20 years of my life here," he said. "I am really going to miss this place and these people but the time has come for me to start another chapter in my life."

Ferguson plans to move to Dallas, Texas near an uncle and work in a hotel fine dining restaurant.

Lt. Jason Asencio, nutrition management department head, NHGB, is excited for the new adventure awaiting Ferguson, but he is not looking forward to finding someone to fill the chef's shoes.

"That is going to be a very hard job," Ascencio conceded. "Because he cares so much about food and puts his heart in every dish he prepares."

U.S. Navy Hospital Guantanamo Bay embraces providing world-class care by maintaining a reputation for sustaining one of the highest patient satisfaction rates of any military treatment facility in the Navy. The patient population of approximately 5,500 includes military family members, government civilian employees and their families, special category residents, contractors, foreign nationals and migrants.

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