You may have experienced Chef Bill Munn’s culinary delights during his tenure at various resorts on the island but did you know that he is also a talented sculptor? We dragged him away from the kitchen to find out more about the man and his other passion.
Bill Munn hails from Jamaica but at age 14 he moved to Vancouver, Canada. After finishing school he pursued various paths: he obtained his Private Pilot’s License and worked in construction. After a diet of junk food and one too many burnt TV dinners he resolved that he should learn to cook: “I bought the basic ingredients for a roast chicken dinner, ‘phoned my sister for guidance, and created a decent meal.” Bitten by the culinary bug, Bill grew confident enough to throw dinner parties. “I enjoyed the cooking and, more importantly, I enjoyed the pleasure it gave others,” he revealed.
Frustrated by the cold winters when he worked outdoors, Bill enrolled in culinary school, knowing that this was his true vocation. Little did he realise that it would lead to him meeting his future wife, Caroline, as she was also studying to be a chef. After finishing their apprenticeships, Bill and Caroline lived and worked together as chefs in Vancouver. Bill’s Caribbean roots meant that he could never get used to the bitter winter weather so when he was offered a promotion that involved relocating to Vanuatu in the South Pacific, he jumped at the chance. Fortunately, Caroline was happy to follow him; even better was her acceptance of his marriage proposal!
The couple eventually moved to Micronesia, to Palau and Yap [Yep, we had never heard of it, either!] where Bill could indulge in yet another passion: scuba diving. “After years of collecting wooden sculptures, especially sharks – which fascinate and frighten me – I thought ‘I can do this’ so I bought some tools and sculpted a group of three sharks which a gallery sold.” Bill’s carvings of dolphins, manta rays and more sharks were snapped up and he began to receive commissions from other divers who were impressed by his attention to the anatomical detail of each species. Clients also appreciated Bill’s regular updates with photos on the progress of a piece so that they saw the entire work from start to finish.
Bill expanded his repertoire to include faces – his first was of Bob Marley – and established his fine wood sculpture business: Munn Originals. Life was good: he was an in-demand chef and had a successful sculpting business “which was a wonderful stress release after being in the kitchen all day.” He and Caroline had two beautiful daughters, Sarah and Amelia, and they were living in a tropical paradise. “Nonetheless, I had a yearning to come back to the Caribbean; to hear the sounds of steel pan and reggae.”
In 2005 the family moved halfway round the world to Saint Lucia. Bill was at The Bodyholiday at Le Sport for one year followed by an eight year stint as Culinary Director at Windjammer Landing Villa Beach Resort. After more than 30 years in hot and busy kitchens in even hotter climates, he yearned to hang up his utensils and concentrate on his sculpting, so he retired to his workshop. For 18 months Bill’s life was dominated by wood but he is not ashamed to admit that he began to miss the kitchen! Late last year he was coaxed back to his main calling and is now Executive Chef at The Landings resort, in charge of its restaurants The Palms and Beach Club plus Callaloo, the beach grill.
Bill creates works of art from local sustainable hardwood: mahogany and white cedar, and from the roots of the campeche and glory cedar trees. “The roots have wonderful, weird shapes that lend themselves to abstract works. Sometimes I don’t know what I’ll end up with when I start sanding but the sculpture evolves while I am working on it.”
Many hours and intense care are devoted to each project. “The amount of time depends on the grain but it’s roughly 20 hours to do a 12 inch study of a shark or a dolphin. Sanding is half the time, even more when I have to hand-sand tight and intricate corners, but when it’s done the piece is very smooth. Then I finish it with three coats of teak oil. I never add any colour or stain. The natural beauty of the grain is allowed to speak for itself.” Finally, the sea life pieces are often mounted on a base of driftwood, campeche root or cedar root, sometimes stone, as Bill likes the contrast of the rough pedestal with the smooth work of art.
Bill’s sculptures and other pieces are on sale at Island Mix in Rodney Bay, at Only Oya in Marigot Bay, at The Yard in the Star Publishing compound, Massade, and at Hallmark and Ziggy’s Hair Salon, both in JQ Mall, Rodney Bay. You can also purchase his work on his website: munnoriginals.com where you can view the sea life and faces galleries as well as the abstracts, jewellery, incense holders and fridge magnets. If you feel inspired to contact Bill through the website, do mention that it was after reading about him in Tropical Traveller.
Even if you don’ buy a sculpture then you should at least sample some of Bill’s edible creations by dining at The Landings (tel. 458 7300). Reservations are recommended. Tell them TT urged you to go!