Young Chefs Season 2: The High School Edition

Chef Latoya Panton
In today’s society, Latoya Panton stands out as a rare combination of humble, hardworking, dedicated and passionate about the Culinary Arts.  She is the CEO of Delicious Occasions Catering & Cooking Classes, which is her very own catering company that she founded after studying Institutional and Catering Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica.

She has been in the Culinary Industry for several years and is highly respected by her peers for her contributions to the Industry and also for developing Jamaica’s first Cooking Reality Series, Young Chefs.

Young Chefs is essentially the brain-child of Panton as a way to marry her love for cooking and also for teaching and nurturing young children to follow their passions to pursue a career in the Culinary Arts. Young Chefs will be launching its second season in 2018 on TVJ which will be dubbed  “High School Edition”.

The Haute Lifestyle had the privilege to interview the “Young Chef” recently and she was extremely calm and knowledgeable and it was hard to believe that someone so accomplished could be so easy to speak with. Read the exclusive interview below.

THL: Tell us a bit about your culinary background?
L.P: I’ve been cooking ever since I can remember; In High School I was involved in everything that was food at St. Jago, from Food & Nutrition to Culinary competitions. While I was in High School in 5th form, there was a cooking competition Geddes BWIA Caribbean Culinary Competition which they had at the Pegasus and I entered that competition and I won a trip to Antigua and Martinique for the summer. This competition “wet my appetite” to go into the field even more than before. After leaving St. Jago in 6th Form, I went on to UTECH to study Institutional and Catering Management which I thoroughly enjoyed and after that I was at Disney for 1 year working in Food & Beverage then I returned home wanting to start my own business.  Starting a Business was always a dream of mine so I came back home and tested the waters and tested myself to see if this is something I wanted to do. The biggest caterer at the time was Lorraine Fung and I went on some catering jobs with her where we catered  to hundreds of people and I worked for 2 days straight without sleep and at the end of that I was exhausted and I was ready to go again. This was when I really knew what I wanted to do and the rest as they say is history. I started my own business Delicious Occasion Catering and Cooking Classes.

THL: Give us an overview of “Young Chefs” and why you decided to create the show
L.P: Young Chefs the TV Show started out from my 10 years of cooking and giving cooking lessons to young kids where I also had Summer Classes. I kept seeing that these classes were 1 week long and students that came to me for 1 week; they started cooking from the Monday morning and their parents didn’t allow them to cook in the Kitchen before. There were 8 year olds and teenagers who came in and they were passionate, they really enjoyed cooking and they came on a Monday and by Friday they left me with my mouth wide open! They were doing so well—they had mastered their knife skills, they were confident and they were just cooking. I did a gourmet cooking class that year when I first thought of doing the show and what I saw was even more amazing.  I’ve always thought about doing a cooking show and I said this is it! I’m going to do a cooking show with these young children and show Jamaica what is possible once there is a passion and that is how I just jumped! I didn’t think about the “how” or “why” or even money, I just got up and found someone who could help with Marketing, I knew someone who did production and I just jumped into the water and Young Chefs was created.

THL: How is Season 2 different from Season 1?
L.P: This season will be High School Children because I teach children from as young as 4 years old all the way up to High School and during the summer we have College students as well as our adult classes. The High School students I saw from the first season were something that represented what we did in the summer classes. We have Young Chefs 1- Beginners, Young Chefs 2- International Foods, Young Chefs Baking, Young Chefs Gourmet and Young Chefs College Edition. Usually you graduate from one to the next and I thought I would make the show go in that same order, where I would have done Young Chef 1 the younger children and the move on to the High School and then possibly the college edition. That was the thinking as to why I wanted High School students this time around as teenagers are able to take on much more than the younger children.  I can go deeper as it relates to the challenges and I want to show the audience what young people are capable of.  In High School you are thinking about careers and I just want to expose that to young people who might not know what they want to do. Having a career in the Culinary Industry is available and it’s exciting. Season 2 is moving the show over to the High School Edition.
THL: What would you say distinguishes your show from other TV cooking shows?
L.P:  In our show, it is reality but nothing is staged or done ahead.  The children are passionate about cooking and what you will be seeing on screen is what actually happens. This is real cooking, nothing is doctored or rehearsed … it is exactly what happens. It makes it a bit more exciting to watch and just to see what really can come out of these children. What they will be prepared on is nothing that will come from the challenges. They won’t be in any way prepared ahead of time so everything they do will be done on spot.

THL: What inspires you on a daily basis?
L.P:  Just knowing that food, the culinary arts is something that you cannot master. That is what I love about food, no matter what, there is always more to learn. There is just more to learn and that is definitely something that keeps me going, and keeps me trying to reach the top. That makes it more fun for me as the challenge remains – the daily inspiration even when I’m having my cooking classes, knowing that I will be helping to bring out the creativity of these young people. Some of these children don’t even know the talent they have and knowing that I can help to pull this out of them is my inspiration each day.  I’ve been working on getting cooking clubs in High Schools and there is now one at St. Georges; these young men don’t have a kitchen at school at all. We cook in classrooms on desks and just to see what is coming out of these young men despite all the odds of not having a kitchen are the things that inspire me and to know that in the future some of them might take this on as a career and I know they will be successful. This in itself is an inspiration.

THL: What are 3 words people use to describe you?
L.P: Some people say I’m calm, passionate and always wanting to be better.

THL: Finish the sentence … “when I’m not cooking I’m …
L.P: Studying about food! it’s always something food related when I’m not actually cooking.  I do a lot of online courses, I am forever just learning and seeking more inspiration as it relates to food and just thinking of new ways I can engage my young chefs in class when we have clubs and when we go to Georges; what can I do to make this more fun and creative? My mind is always on food in some way.

Latoya Panton is a trained chef with an honours diploma in Institutional and Catering Management from the University of Technology. Latoya has worked internationally with Walt Disney Resorts before returning home to Jamaica to pursue catering and cooking school businesses. 
Young Chefs” will begin production in January 2018. Viewers won't have long to wait as the series is set to hit the TVJ airwaves by late April of 2018, to coincide with the beginning of Child’s Month. Young Chefs is Jamaica’s first format- driven cooking reality- show that focuses on children competing in the kitchen in hopes of earning the title of 'Jamaica’s Young Chef'.

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