Four get Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards scholarships

Thursday, May 09, 2019

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Four third-year students from the University of Technology, Jamaica (UTech) School of Hospitality and Tourism Management are this year's recipients of the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards scholarship.

Based on academic accomplishments and financial need, Venice McFarquhar, Ilsaya Kerr, Kaleisha Thompson and Johansen Gordon were the four students shortlisted to be awarded full scholarships. Tuition fees coupled with book grants and other much-needed supplies put the value of each scholarship at approximately $450,000. The outstanding quartet made indelible impressions on the judging panel as they shared their passion for the culinary arts, their personal challenges and how they overcame them.

The judging panel, headed by Observer Managing Director Julian Rogers and Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards conceptualiser Novia McDonald-Whyte, was very pleased with the calibre of the shortlisted students. The panel also consisted of UTech Director of Student Financing Garcia Green-McLennon, Scholarship Officer Pauline Madourie and Food and Service Management Programme Director Camille Jackson.

McFarquhar recounted that her passion didn't always lie within the food industry, as her dream was to become a paediatrican. However, with the introduction of Food and Nutrition while she was a student at St Catherine High School, she fell in love with food and has never looked back since. She also shared with the panel her plight of meeting her academic financial obligations and said that selling pastries had become her source of funds.

“I started by selling 30 gizzadas on the bus from Spanish Town to UTech and before I would reach to school they would be finished,” she revealed. Realising demand outweighed supply, McFarquhar upped the ante and started producing gizzadas on a large scale. She expressed that this was still only barely making ends meet, which was why the scholarship would be a great blessing as it would allow her more time to concentrate on completing her degree.

Thompson meanwhile shared with the panel the development of her love for food by watching her mother in the kitchen from a tender age. When asked about her favourite meal to prepare she replied, “Barbecue chicken and mash potatoes,” a refashioning of her mother's famous baked chicken and mashed potatoes.

Montegonian Ilsaya Kerr had her sights set on becoming a marine biologist but quickly fell in love with the aroma of freshly baked cakes in the oven. Taking a leap of faith, Kerr began baking Christmas cakes and sold to close family members and friends before subsequently establishing her small business in 2017.

The lone male, Johansen Gordon, hailing from Clarendon, spoke about the importance of reinventing traditional Jamaican food even while keeping its essence. He stressed the value of school as a building block for honing the God-given skills and talents of students. With the completion of his degree, he aspires to put Jamaican cuisine on an international platform.

After a short deliberation, the judging panel delivered the good news that all four applicants had been awarded full scholarships to fund their final year of studies. Rogers expressed that he was very impressed by each applicant's presentation. He remarked that their passion and purpose within the culinary arts were evident and he had no doubt that they would make good use of their scholarships and represent Jamaica well in the near future.

A feature of the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards scholarship programme is automatic placement as part of the work team for the annual awards extravaganza at Devon East Lawn, scheduled this year for May 30, 2019.

As an added incentive to the stipend received for working at the event, students will be able to earn course credits towards the successful completion of their degree programme.

The scholarships were first introduced in 2002 by McDonald-Whyte, a former lecturer in the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management, who utilises ticket sales from the annual staging of the Jamaica Observer Table Talk Food Awards to asssist academically sound but financial needy students in the faculty.

The scholarship programme remains a strong component of the annual Table Talk Food Awards and UTech, Jamaica continues to be a strong partner in its mission.


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