A Chef’s Life with Lij Heron
Award-winning Executive Chef, Lij Heron has cooked for kings, princes and world leaders. Chef Lij brought his expertise to the opening of the Lexington Grill at the luxurious Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah in Dubai. He served as a judge for the New Zealand Chef of the Year and, along with wife Kari, was a guest judge on Top Chef Middle East. Currently he’s the Executive Sous Chef at the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort & Casino. On top of this, he runs an award-winning blog with his lovely wife called Chef and Steward.
Lij is a chef of the highest calibre. And this October he’s bringing his incredible talents back to Jamaica for the decadent seven-course event Vintage, part of the Jamaica Food and Drink Festival .
What’s for dinner?
Seared Tuna with soya ginger cilantro sauce with steamed snow peas.
You lived in Dubai, now Aruba. What do you miss about living in Jamaica?
My wife cracks up when I ask her to cook Grace tin mackerel. When we have some it reminds me of a certain time in Jamaica, a great time. I believe all Jamaican chefs love Grace tin mackerel. It’s just a thing. While living in Dubai I missed jerk chicken and going to the river.
Why is an event like the Food and Drink Festival important and what does it mean to you to be involved?
This event showcases the best of what chefs and restaurateurs have to offer. It also shows the growth of the Jamaican food and restaurant industry. This is an opportunity for me to do something on a public forum in Jamaica and network and learn about the talent here.
What’s your favourite food/spice to work with?
My favourite food is good food. I get excited over the highest quality ingredients. I just loving cooking because it relaxes me, challenges me and excites me at the same time.
Have you always known you wanted to be a chef?
Nope, I wanted to do electrical engineering and I studied it. That changed when I worked a construction site.
Explain your cooking style in three words.
Flavourful, unique and consistent
If you had to pick a dish to eat every day for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Sparkling water, I am joking. Mango Sticky Rice, it’s a Taiwanese dessert.
Tell me about what you do on a day-to-day basis.
I wake up very early in the morning and workout. I make my son’s breakfast and lunch for school and then I make my wife’s breakfast. When I get to work, I meet with the executive team members. Each morning I spot check the kitchens at the Sun Set Grill and Gilligan’s & Castaway restaurants, then I go to the main kitchen and have look at the breakfast buffet. I go over my plan for the day, check emails and speak to the butcher and purchasing manager. I help out the Gilligan’s team with any prep that they need. At 10.30am I have a daily meeting with all the cooks and sous chefs. Afterwards, I check the banquet events for the day then it’s back to Gilligan’s to help with the lunch service. After that I’ll write menus and play a little with some food. I’ll then greet the cooks at the Sun Set Grill, help them with prep and also do some training. I leave work sometime between 7.30pm and 9.30pm.
What was the first thing you remember cooking?
Frying ripe plantains.
What’s your favourite thing to eat?
Ripe fruits when in season.
The best thing about your job?
I love leading people to reach their potential. It’s also super to taste daily, and cook (occasionally now at this level) and writing menus then executing them.
The worst thing about your job?
I don’t hate anything about my job. I do have challenges though. I don’t see them as problems so I focus on overcoming them.
What’s your favourite/most impressive thing you’ve ever made?
My pan seared Foie Gras with Pimento Sponge Cake, Smoked Apple Compote, and Onion Jam.
What’s the worst thing you’ve made?
Can’t think of anything. If I make something that I am not satisfied with I will keep cooking it over and over until I am satisfied with it.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
None. I lived my life how I wanted to. I have no regrets, only experiences.
What advice would you give aspiring chefs?
Be prepared to work long and hard hours, weekends, X-mas, New Year’s Eve, Valentines Day. These long work days is tricky to balance with a family. Becoming an executive chef takes a long time. And it takes discipline, and drive no matter how many failures you experience.
What dessert would you want on your birthday?
My grandaunt’s fruit cake with grandmother’s brandy butter sauce.
The proudest moment in your career.
When my mother dined with me in “The Rib Room” at Jumeriah Emirates Towers in Dubai while I was stationed there. Also winning five awards of nine nominations within two years of opening the Lexington Grill at the Waldorf Astoria Ras Al Khaimah.
What’s your personal motto?
Always find solutions to problems. Never give up keep pushing no matter what life throws at you.
To keep up with this stellar chef, head over to the Chef and Steward blog.