Essays on People's Platelist Finalists

I asked Chef Clive to share his philosophy behind cooking. He says, "Food is the 'staff' of life so it should always be clean and fresh. We eat to live so always demand the highest quality then you will feel your best." Why did you become a chef? "The reason I became a chef is food is my first love. I cook because I love people." The menu at Sweet Fingers has more than 30 entrees; however his specialties are jerk chicken, oxtails, and curry goat. My favorites are red stripe chicken, lamb stew, and the Jamaican jambalaya.

What sets Chef Clive apart from other chefs is his ability to infuse love, the perfect balance of spices and flavors in every bite, in every dish, every time. Some folks have a talent for cooking, but Chef Clive has a true gift. He has a relationship with food that is indescribable and different to forget. His distinctive taste is created from an explosion of flavors from Italy, America, Mexico, Poland, Germany, China, and the Caribbean.

It is my wish that Chef Clive Barnes be the Nightline People's Platelist contest winner and his talent showcased for the world to enjoy his savory Jamaican cuisine.

MICHAEL DANA BENZO, Nestle USA Catering, Glendale, CA

Being brought up in a very poor home with no opportunities, at 18 with no direction in life, Michael entered the United States Air Force. After 10 years, he was honorably discharged as a disabled veteran. Still with no direction Michael moved straight from the Air Force into a civil service job with the United States Post office. Michael had always felt unfulfilled and always thought that there had to be something else out there for him.

Midlife had hit – and after 15 years with the Post Office, Michael got a wild hair. He bought a custom Harley Davidson Fat Boy and shortly thereafter drove to the Cordon Blue. With everything on the line Michael and his wife sunk every dime they had into the tuition and he quit a secure job with benefits to pursue a dream. Throwing caution to the wind, Michael was on his way to becoming a chef.

At 42 years old, standing at 6'2, 260 pounds, tattooed from his neck down to his knuckles, he walked into the Cordon Blue and knew instantly this was what he was meant to do. An ominous character, one of the oldest in his class, while putting young punk students in their places for wasting time and not appreciating the opportunities they had been given, Michael pushed through and graduated. He was now a chef.

Three years from graduating, without the gift of youth and time on his side Michael pushed hard and landed at the corporate offices of Nestle USA in Glendale, CA. He is the Catering/Private Chef in charge of catering events and formal plated events for up to 300 individuals. In addition, he is in charge of private executive parties for the CEO, other corporate officers and their high profile guests such as Wolfgang Puck, Magic Johnson and Jerry Rice.

He has changed the face of catering within this company and has turned it from a mediocre product into a first rate product that creates profitable revenue for his company. The wife of the CEO has requested that her husband limit is consumption of Michael's cooking because her husband had gained 10 pounds since Chef Michael's inception with the company. Michael has told the CEO first hand that he is neither his conscience nor his doctor, he is a chef that cooks to feed peoples' souls.

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