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Life Lessons From The Spanish Court Hotel

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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The Jamaica Observer's annual Applaud It! initiative unfolded in fine style yesterday at the Spanish Court Hotel with a formal three-course lunch hosted by the property's Managing Director Christopher Issa. Now in its fourth year, the initiative — conceptualised by Novia McDonald-Whyte, senior associate editor at the Jamaica Observer — has moved from a one-week initiative to three as more industry heads want to participate. What remains however, is the concept to provide a unique opportunity for industry leaders to meet members of the next generation exactly where they are and engage them during a formal meal that exposes them to social and dining skills.

For nine grade four, five and six students of Jessie Ripoll Primary School and Senior Teacher Tina Brown, Monday afternoon at the Spanish Court Hotel was a memorable one: from the Issa family history with the school — his great grandfather Elias Abraham Issa used to live at 49 1/2 South Camp Road [almost across from where the school is now located] — to memories of Issa Park, where the school now stands. The hotelier lauded the school's tradition of academic excellence and implored the students to focus on being good corporate citizens, to lead by example, and not to limit themselves. “I am still not sure which career path I wish to follow,” he shared, as the eager students seized the opportunity to ask about his own foray in the industry. Indeed, many found it difficult to believe that the hotel was once The Spanish Court Shopping Centre.

As he welcomed the students and their teacher to his Spanish Court family, he shared with them their favourite food: “Our favourite food is humble pie. It is the best way to health and prosperity. It does not cause arrogant-itis or envy-itis”. The master class had commenced.

Napkins now opened and a word of prayer from Dominic Muir, it was time for the salad course. Issa regaled the students with tales of his own initiation into the art of fine dining, courtesy of his mother, and the importance of its nuances as, be it later on at college or on the job, the art of fine dining could be integral to their success.

Based on the show of hands, he was pleased to glean that the tradition of the family dining together was still observed. “There are a lot of things that go into the fine-dining experience,” said Issa, “and it's important to note that it's the littlest things that make the biggest difference in life. When I was growing up, things were a lot less hectic; but family time was the one time that we all got to connect with each other. I think it is such an important time; it's a blessing to experience family time, and I think you are all so blessed to experience family time. It's a blessing to sit with at least one parent or other family members. This is where the most meaningful conversations outside of the classroom occur. Indeed, the breakdown of the family unit in Jamaica is what many believe has contributed to the cause of much of society's ills. I hope as you grow older that you will reinforce the importance of family time.”

As lunch progressed — students tucked into the main: grilled barbecue chicken breast with sides of creamy mashed potatoes and market vegetables — so did the life lessons. “There are so many things that go into the fine-dining experience: how to hold the knife, where your roll is placed, how to handle your silverware, etc; people will learn a lot about you simply by the way you handle your cutlery.”

Issa also stressed the importance of social skills. “How you display and conduct yourself around the table,” he said, “will tell the person next to you a lot about you. I'm hoping that this experience will give you a few pointers on how to handle yourself at the table.”

A mini introduction to wines plus the opportunity to sip non-alcoholic bubbly from Champagne flutes found favour with all, as they raised a glass to their host even as they shared their career hopes for the future — from a prime minister to a cardiologist, lawyer and author. There were, too, their hopes for Jamaica: “I want better care to be taken of us children because we are the future,” shared an emotional Gabriella Robinson. “Honesty,” said Arianna Bowen. “More love and a reduction in crime,” was the hope of De'Andra Davidson. “A cleaner Jamaica,” was Christophe Thompson's wish, while Mordie-Ann Gayle's sage advice was to “put in the work now and reap the benefits later“.

After the magnificent white chocolate cheescake was cut, Issa used the opportunity to gift each student with Mi Granny Say Mi Fi Tell You — The A-Z of Jamaicanisms by Viv Burnett and underscored the importance of striving for success but of remaining humble, of remaining true to one's culture, of encouraging others and once again of being excellent role models for their beloved country Jamaica.

Students also received Spanish Court Hotel goodie bags.

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