In the middle of a pandemic chef Lester Dean made a huge decision, the result of which means he is now working in a dream position as executive chef at Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau – a job he considers a “legacy” move, as he didn’t walk into an existing resort, but comprises the team working to open the resort from the bottom up.
Dean is the man tapped with overseeing the resort’s dining outlets. His responsibility runs the gamut, from managing inventory, budgeting, menu planning, training, plating, and all kitchen staff from sous chefs to dishwashers – across the entire resort.
“This position is a dream come true. It’s a legacy move for me, and I say that because a lot of times young Bahamian chefs don’t have the opportunity to open a resort. We might come in when everything is already set up – but we don’t get the opportunity [to be a part of setting it up]. So, when I do well in this position, I hope other hotels and companies can see that we have a lot of local talent here in The Bahamas, but we just need the opportunity to show it. Once I don’t fail, it will open doors for other Bahamians so that they don’t just get to walk into an already opened resort, but be able to open resorts themselves.”
Dean who began working at his “legacy” position the first week in September 2020, has been intimately involved with everything from menu planning, to payroll, training, cooking, recruitment, finalizing contracts for cleaning products, and sourcing food suppliers.
In just four months in the position, he said he has expanded his knowledge base and gained a “wealth” of knowledge about all aspects of hotel, and not just the kitchen.
One of his ultimate goals in his position he said is to “build a great team of culinarians.”
When the offer was put to him, smack dab in the middle of a pandemic, the 16-year veteran said he did not bother second guessing himself. He did not have to think twice about accepting the position.
“It took a day for me to decide, because opportunities like this don’t happen often for a young Bahamian like myself,” said the 39-year-old. “I know God had prepared me for this a long time ago.
“When I got the call to say I got the job, all I could think of was all the holidays I missed with family and friends…the long nights and emotional days I had coming up as a chef…the many times I was delayed opportunities because of many different reasons – everything felt like it came full circle. Everything I went through for the last 16 years prepared me for this day. All the long days, the heartache, the denials, delays, every argument … every critique helped me to this day.”
Dean said he also left his former position with the blessing of his former general manager, John Conway, at the Ocean Club A Four Seasons Resort.
“I spoke to him [Conway] and said they were going to come after me, and he said it was a great opportunity; when the offer actually came, they [Ocean Club] didn’t make it hard for me to leave.”
With the knowledge of the new path he was taking, he said also made him excited again.
“I was excited for a new challenge. Also, I was excited to work with new people and being able to see the ins and outs of opening a hotel, and not just a restaurant,” said Dean.
The chef also said the confidence placed in him to do the job was a morale and confidence boost.
“Latoya Kemp, [former human resources] director at OC [Ocean Club] had left to be director [at Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau]. She knew I was capable of doing the job, so she called me and offered me the position.”
“She [Kemp] saw my development for seven years and saw my growth and knew I was capable of the job, plus she used to work with me every week on development plans [at Ocean Club].”
Despite leaving his job in a pandemic to accept a new position, he said he liked the confidence he saw from the leadership team at Margaritaville during his interview and was sold on their vision for what they were trying to do, their vision for where the resort would go and their plans to open in the global crisis.
“It wasn’t scary, but it was scary,” he said.
The chef said he did have his fair share of doubts, as is human nature, but he said they were of stepping out into the unknown. At the same token, he was confident that Kemp would not have offered him the job if it wasn’t a strong base.
Due to the pandemic, Dean, who was supposed to travel to a number of Margaritaville resorts for training, wasn’t able to. The training team from the resort’s corporate office traveled to The Bahamas to work with Dean – who has had input on all the menus across the resort – working with them to ensure signature Margaritaville items are on the menus, along with items he knows will work in the Bahamian market.
The road to Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau executive chef has been a varied one for Dean.
A journey through various positions at the Atlantis resort saw Dean beginning his culinary career as a cook in Sea Seagrapes restaurant at the Atlantis before transferring to a cook’s position at Bimini Road at the Atlantis, then promoted to sous chef at the Ocean Club Golf Course Clubhouse where he worked himself up to the promotion of head chef. He then transitioned to administration for a stint, charged with keeping tabs on restaurants, before moving on to Bahamian Club as head chef, and then Café Martinique as head chef. He later moved on to executive sous chef at Dune at the Ocean Club, before being promoted to chef de cuisine at Dune, and then promoted again to senior executive resort chef.
Dean said his new job at Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau is a testament to the fact that hard work pays off.
“Every time you think you’re denied, they’re just delays,” he said.
Dean is currently transitioning with Margaritaville Beach Resort Nassau as it goes through a “soft opening” stage until spring 2021, after opening on December 17, 2020.
The resort’s signature JWB Prime Steak and Seafood is open to the public. It’s an upscale restaurant concept offering a contemporary menu of prime steaks, fresh local seafood and a raw bar (coming soon). The restaurant is named after James (Jimmy) William Buffet himself.
Outlets to be unveiled in short order include Frank & Lola’s Pizzeria, Vacation Café (for breakfast, lunch and dinner), Graycliff Skybar Lounge, Waterclub Restaurant & Lounge, Joe Merchant’s Coffee and Provisions, Changes in Latitude Bar (lobby bar), S.O.S. Bar, Feeding Frenzy, 12 Volt Bar and The Market Plaza.