A stint in Bermuda's culinary boot camp

Red lobsters dance on his tie, adding color to a white chef's jacket emblazoned with Bermuda's coat of arms. Chef Frederick Ming's drill-sergeant voice gives me chills, until I see that mischievous grin.

Brandishing a Zorro-sized knife, he roars, "Your fruit salsa is too chunky! Mince it finely, like this," reducing a whole cantaloupe to a perfectly cubed quivering heap.

"The fish should be succulent, Sharon," Chef Ming booms. "Not fried beyond recognition."

As an amateur home chef, I enrolled at the Bermuda College for a class in its culinary-arts department. Students train here for two years to become chefs at hotels and restaurants around the world, but I signed up for Ming's two-hour vacation class.

"Bermuda's cuisine is unique," Ming says proudly, "so you won't be cookin' or eatin' any boring food today."

A blackboard announces our island feast, which includes Bermuda Leek and Potato Soup, Pan-Fried Fish With Fruit Chili Relish (See recipe, right), Poached Fish With Fennel, Grilled Chicken With Mango, Pumpkin Fritters, Bermuda Bread Pudding, and Strawberry Cream Tarts.

Our training kitchen is named for Auguste Escoffier, the legendary French chef who "created" haute cuisine during his lifetime, 1846 to1935. His book, "Le Carnet d'Epicure," led to his title "King of Chefs, Chef of Kings."

"Now let's work!" Ming. commands. My fellow boot-camp "soldiers" are Darlene Donloe from California, Warren Lieb from New Mexico, and Jessica Chapman and Gloria Pastoriza from Florida.

As we chop, slice, saut, and simmer snapper, papaya, leeks, chicken, chilies, strawberries, and Bermuda onions, Ming oversees our tentative efforts, while lecturing us on Bermuda's rich culinary history.

"In 1609, the English ship Sea Venture sailed for Jamestown, Va., to rescue the starving colonists. Unfortunately, she was wrecked by Bermuda's reefs. Fortunately, the crew feasted on the island's abundant hogs, fowl, prickly pears, mulberries, and an ocean of mullet," he explains.

"By 1623, English colonists living here grew potatoes, tobacco, sugar cane, parsnips, radishes, cassava, pumpkins, watermelons, pineapples, plantain, and papaws," he says.

"By the 19th century, the Portuguese brought their own lusty recipes. Bermuda became home to immigrants from Italy, India, Germany, Austria, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Korea, and Singapore. Bermuda's fusion cuisine unites us with a love for great food."

Lecture over, "General" Ming spots a wayward soldier.

"Gloria, never cook chicken on a cold grill! Take it all off till the grill is smokin'." Nothing escapes his eagle eyes. Sheepishly, Gloria removes each piece and waits.

"Don't worry," I try soothing her mangled ego. "I almost ruined my fried fish...."

Two hours quickly passes into four. Jessica's Potato Leek Soup smells heavenly, Warren's Baby Lettuce and Rosemary Salad is decorated with nasturtiums from the chef's own garden. Darlene is frying a batch of pumpkin fritters. And Gloria's tangy chicken is perfectly grilled.

"Think carefully about presentation," Ming says. "Good food is like a refined woman: got to have a fragrant bouquet and a fine appearance." (We feminists roll our eyes.) "The food has to all work together on the plate, not be separated in clumps."

Ming stylishly snuggles a chicken breast against a potato pancake, which leans next to an artistic dollop of pured pumpkin.

On a second plate, he stacks fried fish onto a perfect circle of beans and rice, adding broccoli florets and fried plantain slices like rabbit ears. "The dish has to captivate the diner's interest," he announces. "Appearance reinforces excitement of the taste, which, of course, is everything."

Five hours into Ming's culinary boot camp, we're exhausted, famished, and still hanging on his every word. Chef wannabes, kitchen soldiers, we obey our commanding officer. Finally, he escorts us to a beautifully set table where we devour every savory, exotic bite of soup, fish, chicken, johnnycake, fritter, Banana Bread Pudding, and strawberry tart.

You want a low-calorie, low-fat vacation? Go to a spa. You want incredible high-cholesterol, high-fat cuisine worth every calorie? Have a food fling with Chef Ming, a man in love with fine food, expertly prepared and presented.

"Just one last question, chef," I say as I raise my hand. "Do we have to wash those pots and pans?"

"Nah. Just get on home and start cookin' Bermuda style."

Flashing that mischievous grin, Ming dismisses us with a booming Bermudian laugh.

*For information on Chef Ming's cooking classes, contact Stonington Beach Hotel Bermuda, PO Box HM 523,

Hamilton HM CX, Bermuda.

Telephone 1-800-648-0799.

Web site: www.bermuda-best.com/StoBeach E-mail:bav@triton.bercol.bm

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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