New to Deer Valley’s staff, Akeeno Clarke is a culinary extern who comes to us from Jamaica. Born in Hanover, Parish of St. James, Akeeno went to culinary school in Montego Bay. He currently works as a Chef at Royal Street Café.
JF: Why did you pick culinary school?
Akeeno: Because in Jamaica, you want to set an example for youngsters like yourself. In high school, I was actually granted a culinary scholarship to go to Spain, and I ended up working for the Grand Palladium Palace, one of the most famous hotels on the island of Ibiza. When I returned from that experience, I felt compelled to further myself professionally and to commit to a culinary career.
JF: How did you become aware of Deer Valley Resort?
Akeeno: In Jamaica, we don’t know much about skiing. I was approached by my Dean who told me about a program offered by Janus International, involving hospitality student exchange for bachelor degree graduates like me. I actually sought out this program and that’s how I was told about an opening at Deer Valley, in a state called Utah. I’d never heard about that place. The only thing they told me was to bring some warm winter clothes because it was going to be cold!
JF: Get ready for some snow!
Akeeno: That’s right, be ready for the snow. So, I looked up on the Internet, I explored the Deer Valley website and after I completed that first Skype interview, I immediately felt the love. I liked the people I talked to and I jumped on the opportunity!
JF: What did you expect when you took that job?
Akeeno: Apart from expecting some very cold weather, I was told in the interviews that the resort was ranked number one in America. I was also told in one these interviews by Chef Chris Gibson at the Royal Street Café, that everything in the kitchens is made from scratch. Their dressing, their tomato sauce and everything else are all made from scratch, from quality, fresh ingredients.
JF: Were your hopes realized?
Akeeno: When I got there, not only did everything I had imagined materialize, but my expectations were absolutely exceeded. I must commend Chris Gibson as he set the tone and shone a very distinct light on what was supposed to be done.
JF: How would you compare your previous experience, abroad in Spain, with that at Deer Valley?
Akeeno: I must say that Spain and America are two distinctly different nations. The way of doing things is also different; while the internship in Spain was very enriching, Deer Valley offered both a much more friendly and professional work place. I guess Deer Valley has been improving its services, its culture and its environment for a much longer period of time. Nevertheless, both places will have been great experiences that I will treasure for a long time!
JF: This obviously is your first season at Deer Valley Resort?
Akeeno: Yes, my very first season, but I hope the first of many more to come!
JF: Are you saying that you are hoping to return next winter?
Akeeno: Definitely, if I am given the opportunity!
JF: What were your first impressions when you began to work?
Akeeno: From the get go, the minute I arrived, Chris told me, “Jump in the kitchen!” and proceeded to show me around. While I was already getting involved, I began to pick up bits and pieces of the job, that I guess, make the “Deer Valley Difference.” The whole training was communicated to me in a very friendly manner. What surprised me the most was how everyone was treated equally, the same rules that applied to the managers also applied to the staff and whether I was hard at work or just having fun skiing, I was always treated with respect and friendliness.
JF: Precisely, let’s talk about your skiing experience. I guess you had never seen snow before you came here, right? When did you arrive?
Akeeno: That’s right; snow was new to me! I arrived on January 13, and it was cold and snowy; it had just snowed the day before.
JF: How did you learn to ski?
Akeeno: That’s surprising because when I first came here, I was shocked; I arrived from a warm country into a very cold place. I told myself, “I’ll never go skiing!” I had heard about a couple of ski lessons that were coming up, but I never went to any of them. Then my friends, back in the kitchen, kept on telling me, “You need to go skiing, you need to come with us!” I’m talking about guys from Argentina or from the Philippines and one day someone summoned me one more time to get on skis. It’s at that moment that I finally decided to give it a try. I actually never took a ski lesson. My buddies showed me how to do it; that was it and now I’m doing it almost every day!
JF: You mean to say you’re skiing every day? That’s a fast learning curve!
Akeeno: You’re right, I’m skiing almost everyday and to my surprise I’m enjoying it very much. I love to ski!
JF: Aside from skiing, what are the most important things you’ve learned since you’ve been at Deer Valley?
Akeeno: First, I’d say that they’re a lot of different cultures in the work place. You need to be receptive to all the people that surround you. Coming from Jamaica where the culture is a lot different, in Deer Valley I needed to learn how to interact with all my co-workers whether they came from Argentina, Peru or Paraguay. Another important element of what I learned is the barrage of recipes I’ve learned to prepare. But what I learned the most has been about quality and consistency in all the meals I prepare, and my own ability to control my attitude in that high stress level job. Those are by far the most important skills I’ve learned at Deer Valley and I treasure them.
JF: Now, if you had friends who might be interested in taking a position at Deer Valley, what would you tell them are the required qualities to successfully accomplish the job and be happy?
Akeeno: As a matter of fact, when my friends back in Jamaica ask me what it would take to get a job like mine at Deer Valley, I always tell them that they must be a consistent person, they must be very punctual, they have to show up early on the job everyday. I mean they’re not supposed to be at work watching the clock, they have to be committed to their task. Much of this has to do with the high standards Deer Valley is setting. People working here have a mutual interest with what Deer Valley is trying to create and what they want to achieve for themselves.
JF: This makes a lot of sense. Now, in your view, what is so special and so different about Deer Valley Resort?
Akeeno: What’s really special about Deer Valley? As I mentioned before, it’s all the employees. They all know how to provide quality in a consistent manner. It never changes; everyone is aware of the standards Deer Valley is setting. It’s not like one day you can provide a certain level of service and a totally different one the next day. For instance the “Deer Valley Difference” is found in details like when you are about to ride the chairlift, the lift attendant brushes the snow off the seat and says, “Enjoy your day skiing!”, regardless of whether you are a guest or a resort employee. They will repeat these gestures and say something nice to you every single time; it never changes…
JF: The same measure for everyone?
Akeeno: The exact same!
JF: Akeeno, anything else you’d like to say?
Akeeno: I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to Deer Valley, its staff, its managers and all my co-workers. Thank you for accepting me and for sharing your knowledge with me. When I return to Jamaica, this will have been a life changing experience for me that I will share with every one I come in contact with. I only hope that I can keep on working at Deer Valley Resort for many more seasons!