With a desire and drive to always top his best, Geion Johnson, senior sous-chef at Sandals Negril has, over the years, continued to impress those around him with his determination to accomplish all his goals.
The culinary arts, however, was initially not a goal for Johnson, who had his early start in mechanics at The Manning’s School in Westmoreland and then Cornwall Automotive Training Institute in Montego Bay, St James. But, when this was not as fulfilling as he wanted, he was encouraged by his brother to work in a restaurant.
Starting out as a dishwasher he had his eyes on the goal to upskill himself, and with no previous training and just basic skills that he had learned at home in his kitchen, Geion gained the trust of his manager and started to put his twist on things. This gave him an opportunity to secure a job in the hotel industry, and after a few years of learning and training, he was offered a job at Sandals Negril.
“When I accepted the offer to join the Sandals Negril team back in 2012 as a Teppanyaki cook at the resort’s Kimonos Restaurant, I came with the intention to learn and grow, as self-development is something I’ve always believed in,” he added.
After three years as a cook, he somehow felt as though he had grown complacent. This was when he was moved to another specialty dining option, the Bayside restaurant, offering international flavours during the day and French cuisine at night. Johnson quickly embraced the new and exciting opportunity.
“From the get-go, I knew I wanted to do more, so I would ask my supervisor to do additional events. My shift would start at 3pm and I would come in at around 10 am just to get more training in other areas. My efforts and hard work paid off shortly after, as I was offered the position of supervisor. It was at this moment I really had the revelation to strive for executive chef,” Johnson shared.
His hunger for success was very evident as just a few months later Johnson was again promoted, this time to the position of junior sous-chef. He then went to Barbados on the Sandals Team Member Exchange programme, an initiative that provides Caribbean nationals with opportunities for growth and employment through on-going regional recruitment, training and development. There, he learned a great deal and like clock-work, upon his return to Jamaica he was offered yet another promotion to undertake duties as a sous-chef.
The now senior sous-chef is not your ordinary chef. In fact, he was known as the singing chef when he first started at Sandals Negril. He shared that he has a love for music and always tries to incorporate this during his meal preps.
Also a family man, his time away from the resort is spent in the comfort of his home. And though he may not be clad in his professional attire, he still finds himself in the kitchen with his children as the perfect bonding activity.
“I love spending time with my kids on my days off, and it is a joy to pass this knowledge and skill to them. For me cooking is not a job, so I do look forward to spending this time with my family,” Johnson added.
When asked what he loves most about his job, Johnson explained that it is the ability to bring a concept in his head to the plate, through flavour and presentation. He shared that often times he would remember meals from his childhood and recreate them with his own flair.
“One of the best things for me is to present a plate that captivates the guests so much they don’t want to touch it, but when they do dig in it’s exactly how they would imagine. It is using art and creating magic,” he shared.
If you were not convinced that this man loves a challenge, his favourite thing to cook is Beef Wellington – according to Johnson, one of the hardest dishes for any chef to prepare because of its technicality.
Noting that Sandals was the turning point in his career and the place that fostered his love for the culinary arts, Johnson shared that working at the resort has given him a clearer vision and the necessary tools to maneuver his way from one goal to another.
“I have travelled within the company and I have seen what Sandals has to offer. I wanted to be a part of an organisation that could help secure a promising future for me. I have learnt a lot here and have met many persons who have influenced me positively, and helped with my discipline and growth. I can truly say I am not the same person I was when I first got here,” Johnson added.
Helping to lead the team at the Bayside Restaurant, Johnson says it is his goal to ensure that his team gets daily reminders of their true potential. His aim is also to be a role model they can aspire to mirror.
Executive Chef at Sandals Negril, Delroy Haye shared his confidence in Johnson’s efforts to positively impact his team on resort.
“Geion is the little giant, small in stature but big in impact. He is very supportive and you can always count on him to get the job done. While working with his fellow team members, he always exercises patience and he will do his utmost best to ensure that they are being trained properly. Geion never accepts a ‘good or an ok job’, he is always aims for perfection which speaks much about his character,” Haye said.
For now, Johnson has his eyes set on the position of Executive Chef but says his ultimate goal is to be a chef at a Michelin star restaurant, which is considered the hallmark of fine dining. Noting that there is currently none in the Caribbean, he hopes to be the first to introduce it here in the region. One would say that this is very ambitious of him, but as we can see Chef Johnson has no time for slowing down, and though short in stature; his big dreams and ambitions have gotten him a far way.