By Nills Campbell
Dr Kurt Stephenson had set his heart on becoming a medical doctor. Indeed, he longed for the day when his professors would line up one by one and it would be loudly proclaimed that Kurt Stephenson was now qualified to practise medicine.
But it was no easy task for him to attain that goal. To many of us in the local education system, subjects such as biology, chemistry, physiology and mathematics present a real challenge, but for him they never once stood in the way of fulfilling his ambition.
Strangely, his setback was not in mastering such subjects but in reading. His mother readily accepted the advice of a private tutor that he should do some more reading.
He was allowed to choose his own reading material and so he asked her to purchase books that would enhance his ability to cook and prepare a host of delicacies.
By the time he reached university he found reading the science subjects easy, but this had come about in an unorthodox way – by going through several cookbooks, and in the process developing his reading skills.
Along the way he was inspired by seeing stage by stage the production of a two-storey cake, since the neighbour’s family was hosting a double wedding.
He did more reading in the culinary field over the years, and in addition to his literacy skills, this also impacted favourably on his catering talents. He was better able to prepare drinks, cakes, meals – you name it.
He remembers not only the purchase of cook books by his mother, but can still hear her persuasive voice requesting him to prepare meals. He could never forget her calling him to bake the buns, salara, tennis rolls or whatever was desired at the time.
He looks back with mixed feelings as he progressed from age 13 to 18.
”In those days,” he recounts, “I was taken for a ride.” Dr Stephenson recalls the occasions when persons wanted to benefit from his catering skills but did not want to pay.
“Willingly, you will find persons who are eager to have a 13 or 18-year-old provide for their birthdays or weddings, but you can bet your bottom dollar that these very people are unwilling to pay for the catering service that they may consider as good and outstanding as others.”
Often, the cakes he baked and the ones he iced were digested not only within Guyana’s borders but overseas as well, as people sought to spread their wedding bliss to relatives and friends beyond this 83,000 square-mile territory.
And he was always willing to offer a hand to neighbours with whatever the menu was – fried rice, curry, vermicelli – whatever.
Dr Stephenson was truly delighted for these opportunities. He feels a debt of gratitude to his neighbours who shared with him every technique in the preparation of meals which formed part of the menu for a variety of occasions.
One of the memories he cherishes relates to a special event while he was studying in Cuba. Students were gathering to celebrate their first year in Cuba, and some 18 dishes were prepared, reflecting the wide range of Guyanese cuisine — Amerindian, African, Indian, Portuguese, Italian, other European.
Once again, the Guyanese food stood out as foreigners celebrated their first exposure to dishes usually prepared in Guyana. And Dr Stephenson was the artful caterer who had nurtured his culinary skills while reading – cookbooks.