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a person preparing food in a kitchen

In BOP faces we talk to local legends: the people of Punta Cana that make this place so special. In this edition: Kevin Hemmings, a Jamaican chef who is discovering Punta Cana for the first time. In between his shifts at work he gradually learns the ins and outs about the Dominican culture. BOP was curious how he as a newbie feels about living in Punta Cana and about his passion for food.

“I knew nothing about the Dominican Republic or Punta Cana, before I came here! It has been quite an experience,” Kevin Hemmings (24) explains. He laughs as he recalls his prejudices against the Dominican Republic. “When I started reviewing and researching things online it was all negative. Kidnappings, robberies and other bad stuff. I even got scared. I told myself that I was not going but my grandmother changed my mind. She told me to give it a try. So, I did.”

Kevin Has been in Punta Cana for 2 months. It has been quite a change for him to leave his close-knit family and Jamaica for the first time in his life.

“It was the first time I left Jamaica and my family. I was excited and scared at the same time. I also never flew on a plane before. When we flew over the Dominican Republic and I looked out the window the view was breathtaking. Like I mentioned I was scared and excited to come here and it was my grandmother who convinced me to take the step.”

Growing up in Jamaica

If it was not for his grandmother Kevin would still be living in Jamaica. She is the woman who shaped his life in a positive way and made him discover his passion.

“I grew up in a very rural place in Jamaica called Red Hills St. Andrews with my mother and my siblings. We had fruit trees all around. Mango, soursop, and apple trees. The view was green. I grew up between nature, learning about the Ackee plant and other plants and herbs.  It is there that my love for different flavors began. At the age of 11 my mom died, so I went to live with my grandmother who is a chef and who teaches other chefs how to cook too. Although the transition of not being with my mom was hard at first, I discovered my passion at my grandmother’s house.”

“When I used to come home from school, I smelled coconut from the coconut drop, and the smells of all kinds of spices when she used to cook. I always watched her and she started teaching me. She used to tell me: ‘add a little something here, just a spoon of this, take this.’ And so, I made my first dish when I was 11. It was chicken with white rice. My grandmother said it was ok!  I really don’t know if she was honest.

I love preparing hot plates, but my real passion is pastries and cakes. Red Velvet, Christmas puddings, you name it. I just love preparing pastries and cakes!

Being Jamaican in Punta Cana

“I thought I was applying for a job in Jamaica.” Kevin did not have a clue that the job he was sending his application to, happened to be in Punta Cana.

“I saw an advertisement on this app that shows jobs in Jamaica. I did not have a job at the time and it said Chef, so I applied. Later on, it became clear that it was for a job in the Dominican Republic! All the prejudices I reviewed and researched online happened to be false. I did not experience anything here.”

“When I got to Punta Cana, I did not know what to expect. As I started moving around more and more, I got to know a part of the area. It was not easy though. You see I do not speak Spanish. That is why it is hard to express myself. Negotiating with Motoconchos, and going to the barber, are things that I had to learn, and I am still learning. I don’t know how often I paid too much for something or ended up somewhere else, because of my lack of Spanish and in English I have a heavy Jamaican accent!” a laughing Kevin says.

Even though Kevin moves around a lot he does find it hard to make friends. “In Jamaica everybody mixes. Here I feel it is hard to meet people. Maybe it is also because I do not speak Spanish. I also do not meet other Jamaicans. I am an alien here! I Of course, I miss my family, but my colleagues are cool enough to hang out with sometimes.”

Cooking Jamaican food in Punta Cana

“Serving and cooking Jamaican food in Punta Cana is really a first for me. A lot of people do not know Jamaican dishes or heard of it somewhere. Somehow people from the Caribbean always seem to find us.”

Favorite place in Punta Cana

“My favorite place in Punta Cana is the Taino Cave, where you can swim. You stop there with a buggy excursion. I love it! And Macao beach, but that is almost everyone’s favorite place here.”

“I do not know how long I will stay in Punta Cana, but my ultimate dream is to have my own restaurant in the future. In the meantime, I will just be serving and spoiling the people in Punta Cana with Jamaican food here!

Taste Kevin’s Jamaican dishes at the Jamaican Jerk Hut in Bavaro.

Read more inspiring interviews. Like the interview with mumpreneur Katerina, or with girl boss Nicolina, or talented artist Tiano.