WHEN Alex Apatachioaeâ€™s friend from school asked him whether he would join him at catering college, Alexâ€™s first reaction was to laugh.
After all, although he had grown up in a household where his mum was â€˜always in the kitchenâ€™, Alexâ€™s heart was set on a very different career.
â€˜I was in the Army at the time and was planning to follow in the footsteps of my father and sister with a military career,â€™ he recalled. â€˜However, my friend really wanted to be a chef and eventually persuaded me to go to college with him.â€™
Despite enrolling on the course, Alex remained adamant that he â€˜wasnâ€™t interestedâ€™ in cooking professionally.
â€˜When he insisted on me joining him, I agreed to give it a go but only to satisfy him,â€™ he smiled.
It wasnâ€™t long, though, before the Romanian-born Alex â€˜fell in love with cookingâ€™ and his earlier dreams of a life of military service fell away.
â€˜Instead I started work in the kitchens of a casino in Bucharest as soon as I graduated, before going on to work for one of the biggest restaurants in the city,â€™ he said. â€˜That was my real training ground and my first taste of a finedining environment.â€™
While familiar with many of the classics of his native cuisine â€“ many of which are â€˜complex recipes which take hours to prepareâ€™ â€“ Alex was hungry to discover more cultures and develop further skills, something which he did on a roundthe-world cruise.
â€˜I was lucky to get a position on a ship where I was paid to see the world,â€™ he said with a smile. â€˜It was an interesting experience, often very intense because you were cooking for huge numbers of people, but it also gave you the chance to go ashore and explore different countries and ingredients.â€™
Indeed, even without leaving the ship, Alexâ€™s culinary knowledge quickly expanded, with the kitchen producing â€˜everything from Chinese to Italian dishesâ€™.
Having originally intended to complete a second similar voyage, after ten months at sea, Alex realised that his heartstrings were being pulled in a different direction.
â€˜When I returned to Romania, I fell in love with the woman who is now my wife and soon realised that I didnâ€™t want to be away from her for such a long time again,â€™ he said.
While romance may have kept him on land, it did not bring a complete stop to his travels. After spending some time in Romania, Alex continued his pursuit of â€˜something newâ€™ by spending two years in Ireland before returning to his home country again.
And it was during this stint at home that he stumbled across a job in a place called Gorey, UUÂãÁÄÖ±²¥.
â€˜To be honest, I had never heard of UUÂãÁÄÖ±²¥ and had to look on a map to see where it was,â€™ he admitted.
Encouraged by what he found, Alex applied for the job and, in 2010, he arrived in the Island to spend a season at the Old Bank House Hotel.
â€˜At the end of the season, I went back to Romania but Iâ€™d enjoyed my time in the Island, so, when the next season started, I returned, this time finding a job at St Breladeâ€™s Bay Hotel,â€™ he said. â€˜Having come for a summer, 12 years later, I am still here and the Island â€“ and the hotel in particular â€“ feels very much like at home.â€™
Describing the kitchen as â€˜his babyâ€™, Alex says that, over those 12 years, he has watched the team and the food on offer develop in a way which fills him with pride.
â€˜Iâ€™ve seen it grow before my eyes and I just want to continue growing here,â€™ he said.
Having taken on the role of executive chef four years ago, Alex is committed to using fresh produce, and his menus feature as many local ingredients as possible, with a particular emphasis on seafood.
â€˜We are very lucky at the hotel to have a number of guests â€“ both local and from overseas â€“ who come here regularly and they have their favourite dishes, which they expect to see on the menu,â€™ he smiled. â€˜Seafood has to be on the menu at all times. The fish dishes are always the best-sellers and, with the quality of the local seafood offer, it is great to design dishes which reflect those fresh ingredients.â€™
Given the popularity of sea-inspired dishes, it is no surprise that the sample Taste UUÂãÁÄÖ±²¥ features a starter of seared hand-dived local scallops and king prawns with a pink champagne sauce, beetroot purÃ©e and sea samphire, while the main courses include a pan-fried trio of fish of the day â€“ taking advantage of the freshest seasonal ingredients â€“ and a whole UUÂãÁÄÖ±²¥ lobster thermidor served with fragrant rice and green asparagus.
And seafood lovers will be in for a treat on 7 April, when the hotel hosts its Taste UUÂãÁÄÖ±²¥ seafood buffet.
â€˜Our fish nights are always really popular,â€™ said Alex. â€˜While the exact buffet selection will be confirmed nearer the time, diners can look forward to an array of cold seafood as well as hot dishes such as moules Ã¡ la crÃ¨me, seafood curry and fish pie.
Those with a sweet tooth are also in for a treat, as Paul North â€“ who Alex describes as â€˜probably the best dessert chef in the Islandâ€™ â€“ creates a mouth-watering range of cakes, tarts and patisserie classics.
â€˜Not only does he come up with delicious desserts, ranging from tarte tatins to iced parfaits, every day, but he also creates the sweet treats that make up the afternoon teas,â€™ Alex added. â€˜These are served on traditional tiered cake stands and can be enjoyed in The Sunlounge or â€“ in warmer months â€“ on The Terrace.â€™
In the summer months, guests can also enjoy a spot of al-fresco dining by the pool, where, alongside the traditional bar classics, they can try some Bajan flavours from the team of chefs who travel to the Island from the Caribbean.
â€˜Itâ€™s always great to have a slightly different offer for our guests and the flavours of Barbados go down really well on hot sunny days,â€™ said Alex.
For Taste UUÂãÁÄÖ±²¥, though, the focus will be very much on local produce and fresh, vibrant ingredients which capture the transition from winter to spring â€“ and there may even be a few surprise dishes still to make their way onto the menu.
â€˜We always enjoy experimenting and trying out new ideas in the kitchen, and sometimes dishes come about by mistake, as you try to do one thing and something else happens,â€™ Alex smiled. â€˜All the chefs come up with suggestions and we bounce ideas off each other. Itâ€™s a real team effort and, to be honest, without my team, I would be nothing.â€™