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Executive Chef John Lee

John LeeFrom childhood in Queensland, Australia, John helped his Mum in the kitchen. He’d watch her, help her set the table, help her cook sometimes, and even do the dishes! Well at the time, that’s because she told him to. But decades later, John took a turn off his career track which led him right to the kitchen again — this time because he wanted to.

After spending around 20 years studying and working as a telecommunications engineer for companies like Nokia and US West, John started thinking about doing something different with his life. (Fortunately, his wife Ellen was on the same wavelength). So the couple started looking in to a more relaxed lifestyle and a new business venture to sustain it. Once they realized they were destined to be hoteliers, John and Ellen practically drew straws to determine the division of labor. “You have to take care of marketing and reservations,” John said to Ellen. “And why don’t you be the bartender and housekeeper too.” Ellen replied “That’s fine, but that means you have to be in charge of maintenance. And the kitchen. I now pronounce you Chef Engineer John.”

John relaxing before dinner service.

So did John just figure out how to make a pizza or throw a burger together? No way! He had to go and complicate things by trying to create an interesting menu that was spiced for the tropics and priced for the locals. The Bistro opened with five appetizers, four main courses, a short bar menu and a few breakfast items. Early customers included a small handful of occasional hotel guests, and the odd neighbor who heard something was cooking at Maya Beach Hotel. Early comments from hotel guests about the eclectic, Caribbean-leaning menu and dishes like the Cacao Pork were enthusiastic, while retirees in the neighborhood insisted the menu would be improved with items such as all beef hot dogs and fried chicken.

John, Ellen and the Bistro stuck to their guns and eventually found a niche among tourists, Belizeans and expat customers. The “tropical comfort food” menu embraces Belizean tastes but embellishes them with less traditional flavor profiles. For example, starches like rice, beans and potatoes are found throughout our menu but are paired with original sauces such as watermelon curry or a coconut-papaya base.  John puts his engineering skills to good use, testing combination after combination in search of culinary surprises.

 

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