Nothing brings people together quite like the hospitality industry. It is one of my favorite characteristics; the way it houses employees from every corner of the world. It is truly remarkable and something to be valued. On that note, please say hello to Valerie!
Valerie, who has lived on Grand Cayman for six years, originally came from the Philippians to follow in the footsteps set forth by her older sister. What started as a three month “let’s see how I like it” turned into a love for the islands and a love for the industry.
“I remember having just arrived here after three days of traveling from the Philippians and when all I wanted to do was sleep, my sister dragged me to Camana Bay and the parade of lights. I fell in love with the island right there and then.”
The first thing you will notice with Valerie is her work ethic. Even as I was collecting these answers from her, she barely stood still as she set up and stocked our new Catboat Bar in the renovated lobby. “I’ve always worked – I don’t know how to do anything different” she said as she dressed the bar top with cocktail garnishes. She has worked essentially every job possible on island, from a tour guide to floral arrangement maker and over the past 4 years, striving in the hospitality industry.
Previous to joining our team at the Westin this past December, she was a head bartender at Eduardo’s, a boutique restaurant just down the street from us. “I learned bartending by simply doing, and I love it!” More than that, she loves competing within her craft and that is what pushed her to learn more and create better drinks. As it turns out, Valerie informed me that she preparing for a cocktail competition taking place Saturday the 28th at the Taste of Cayman event. Having competed for her previous employer the last two years and finishing in the runner up position, you can be sure she is pretty motivated this year. Additionally, she has the support of all of us here at the Westin, including the kitchen team and their extensive access to some pretty unique ingredients.
From all of us at the Westin and from all of our fans, we wish you the best of luck at the competition this weekend! Please read part 2 of this blog post for the update on how she did in the competition!
I think nerves are important to someone competing. It shows that you care and are passionate about what you are doing. Further, it forces you to concentrate on the task at hand. With two previous second place finishes behind her, I think it is safe to say that Valerie was nervous going into the competition. I touched base with her in the prep area as she was setting up her plating display and ensuring she had all the ingredients ready to go.
“I am ready to go and feel good about what we have prepared” she told me as she barely made eye contact, focusing only on the glasses she was placing on her display. A good bartender needs to be organized and that is especially relevant when competing against a clock and the best of the best from the island and abroad.
The Taste of Cayman cocktail competition brought seven mixologists together to compete against each other. Five are from the islands best cocktail establishments and two were brought in from other competitions in their respective cities. This year, both Miami and Chicago were well represented in the competition as well. As the crowds gathered and the competition started, our Valerie was first up with 10 minutes to prep and serve her choice cocktail. Inspired by the refreshing demand from our island and our new lobby bar, she served the judges a Rum and Cucumber cocktail which hit a home run for all of the judges. One of the judges even went so far as to say it was his favorite cocktail in a long time. With round one over, we stood and watched as the other competitors took to the stage. Of the seven competitors in round one, only three would advance to the mystery ingredient round.
We are proud to report that Valerie did indeed make the final round, against the bartender from the Seafire resort and our international competitor from Chicago. As all eyes watched the mystery ingredient box, Valerie’s mind was only focused on her game plan. We held our breath as the mystery box was opened, happy to see a local favorite revealed; Starfruit. Using the mandatory ingredient of rum and Starfruit, Valerie hit the ground running by keeping her refreshing cocktail strategy in play, again introducing cucumber into the mix. She wowed the crowd with a little smoke infusion and poured out the cocktail. The judges now faced the difficult task of selecting the best of the three as we all watched with crossed fingers and toes.
The judges started with third place, which went to our neighbor at the Seafire. Two remaining, both females and both representing different countries. At this point, the result didn’t even matter. Valerie not only did us proud but she did Cayman proud by outlasting all of the local competitors, something she failed to do in the last two years. Despite this, Valerie wanted to win the gold and unfortunately the cards did not fall in her favor as her competitor from Chicago took the win. Obvious disappointment set in as she proudly accepted the second place prize.
Valerie, from all of us here at the Westin, from our thousands of fans and your fellow Starwood employees around the world, we are so proud of you. You did us proud the moment you announced that you wanted to compete on our behalf. Congratulations and you know you have our support in the future!