His love for cooking started at an early age, spending time helping his mother Jennifer Laidley and his aunt Miriam Reid (who by the way is a professional chef and a phenomenal baker) to cook family meals on Sundays and during the holidays. Little did he know at the time, that he would be a featured chef with an ever growing fan-base. So while attending Edith Dalton James High School, in Jamaica, Noel Cunningham struggled to choose a career path.
“At first I wanted to become a teacher, then I wanted to be a soldier then suddenly I developed this love for entertainment and wanted to become an actor/comedian,” said the still very funny chef. “But all of that changed when I was in 10th grade and it was time to choose my vocational area. I assessed all the areas to see which area I could do well in. I came across electrical and thought ‘that’s not for me, I’m afraid of getting electrocuted’, he laughed.
Noel went on to decide between clothing and textile but didn’t see himself as a tailor then he saw the light…like angels from above, when the subject of food and nutrition presented itself – he knew!
His prediction: “I could do this and become a chef and also have my own restaurant”.
So while studying culinary arts and nutrition, he was awarded twice for top performer, which undoubtedly sealed the deal – he knew that this was what he wanted to do – for certain. After graduating from his high school, he attended the prestigious Runaway Bay Heart Hotel & Training Institute in Jamaica, where he studied Commercial Cooking, graduating as a certified Chef de Partie (for those of us who has no clue what that is – it is a station chef, or line cook, a chef in charge of a particular area of production in a restaurant). But soon the entire kitchen would be his to master!
Focused on building his career, Chef Noel Cunningham rose quickly in the culinary ranks, being featured in numerous newspaper, magazine and television shows in both Canada and Jamaica.
He recently appeared twice on CTV Winnipeg’s Morning Live, Kiss102.3fm, and was featured in the November 2015 and March 2016 issue of Jamaican Eats magazine. In the last 12 months he was also featured in the Jamaica Gleaner, Jamaica Observer and the Jamaican magazine. If that isn’t enough, he has under his belt many television appearances on Jamaica’s CVM TV: Jamaican News Sports and Entertainment, Jamaica’s morning program Smile Jamaica, Entertainment Report, Intense, Nyammings cooking show and Talk Jamaica Online Radio.
Because his name was becoming common place – at least in Jamaica, Noel decided to expand his audience to what he loved to do most, and there was no better way to do so than Facebook at the time. But to his surprise, his audience grew bigger and wider than he expected.
“I was constantly getting messages and emails on how to make a particular dish, so I came up with the idea why not make videos so persons can go do it themselves and did so through YouTube,” he explained.
In fact, Noel has recently completed taping season 1 of What’s Cooking with Chef Noel. The aim of his show is to promote the use of Caribbean ingredients to create simple, homemade meals. Viewers get step-by-step instructions on how to prepare various dishes from start to finish, via recipes, which are created each week with new techniques and ways to execute them.
But it seems that chef’s pot continues to bubble over as he himself notes that there is plenty more to come.
“I have a lot of projects in the works for the future,” he said with a grin. “I’m currently starting up my catering company Cuisine by Noel, here in Winnipeg, Canada.”
He explained that Cuisine by Noel will be a fully integrated food service company that will promote Caribbean food with an international twist, while promoting healthy eating. And if that wasn’t enough, he is also working on a condiment line of products, from his special blend that includes a jerk marinade to pesto, which he promises will be available soon. Guess what folks – he’s not done! He also plans to complete his degree in Hospitality and Tourism Management and work on his recipe book too!
As he looks back at the journey that has taken him from the kitchen of his mother in Jamaica to now, a platform that opens him to the world, he reminisced that despite the many mentors he’s encountered along the way, his biggest culinary influence still remains his aunt Miriam Reid:
“She inspired my enthusiasm for the culinary arts and encouraged me to become a chef. Because of her my philosophy and passion is, has always been and will always be about enjoying everything with balance, including my passion for food.”
You can find Chef Noel Cunningham using Facebook and Instagram as his stages to elicit chuckles, smirks and belly laughs, while also teasing fans with some delicious shots of whatever he’s cooking (o be fair he does includes recipes. Sometimes.) You can also catch him on YouTube or over on Twitter doling out daily inspiration and proclaiming his love for Rihanna.
Words by Tracy Moore