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Brits Abroad – Andrew

01 July 2011 by
Brits Abroad – Andrew

Former Acorn Award winner, Andrew "Stan" Baxter, now 40, is executive chef and food and beverage manager at the Galley Bay Resort & Spa in Antigua. Despite his initial scepticism of working abroad, he tells Janet Harmer why he has remained on the island for 12 years

Describe the style and setting of Galley Bay. It is a 98-bedroom luxury resort hotel, owned by Englishman, James Lane, and managed by Elite Island Resorts. Set within 40 aces of tropical gardens on the west coast of Antigua, it has three alfresco restaurants.

What encouraged you to work overseas in the first place? To be honest, I'd always frowned upon people who worked abroad as I thought people travelled to take it easy. But in 1999 I was looking for a new challenge and heard about Galley Bay from a chef friend, Paul Bates. At the time I didn't even know where Antigua was, but after talking to my wife Hayley, I made a call and the rest is history. Working at Galley Bay has certainly changed my early perceptions as mentally and physically, this is one of the hardest things I've every done.

What have been the highlights of working in Antigua? I've loved learning about the local produce and a new style of cuisine, adjusting to the colourful West Indian culture, working with a wonderful kitchen brigade, and catering for many government functions and for the Governor General [the Queen's representative in Antigua]. I've twice been awarded manager of the year at the hotel and in 2010 I was named Antigua and Barbuda Chef of the Year.

What have been the difficulties? Being away from my friends and family. When things are going wrong at work, you can be surrounded by people and yet feel very lonely. I also miss my stereo system and record collection.

What do you like about working in Antigua? I have invested a lot of time in developing a self-sufficient team who are good at problem solving - something which didn't exist when I arrived. To take an employee who is not mentally or socially equipped to work in a hotel kitchen and turn them around so they become proud of themselves is a cause for celebration.

What do you dislike about working in Antigua That's easy - hurricanes. They are difficult to work through, even with a good plan. Two weeks after I arrived here, Hurricane Lenny dumped 13 inches of rain in 24 hours [Antigua usually gets only 26 inches a year]. I opened the door of my hotel to look out and a rush of water came in, along with fish and coconuts. It was exciting, exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

Is it difficult working in a country with a huge disparity between rich and poor? In the kitchen we are all equal, I talk with my team about the ups and downs in their lives and they ask me about mine. But some people here have had it real hard and they are the ones I admire the most.

What are the financial benefits of working abroad? When I first arrived here, the job was tax free, but then the Government changed and income tax was introduced. This year, the tax system has been restructured and the benefits that once existed for ex-pats have been completely eroded.

Is there a large British community working in hospitality in Antigua and do you liaise with each other? There are more British chefs here, than any other nationality. The ex-pat community is friendly, but very work orientated - there is not a lot of social interaction. I could call on any of the chefs here for help if needed, regardless of whether they are local or from overseas.

Do you have a family with you in Antigua? I have a wonderful wife, Hayley, a son, Jack, who is 13 going on seven, and a daughter, Molly, who is nine going on 19. It was initially hard because of the hours I was working - Hayley was stuck at home, knowing no one. She hated the first six months and I thought we would be going home at the end of the first year. But after a visit to the UK, she changed her mind.

CV: andrew baxter
1987 Trainee, Dorchester hotel, London
1988 Second commis, Mosimann's London
1989-91 Chef de partie, Ritz Club, London
1991-97 Senior sous chef, Swallow Royal hotel, Bristol
1997-99 Head chef, Center Parcs, Longleat, Wiltshire
1999-present executive chef and food and beverage manager, Galley Bay, Antigua

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