Food is an important calling card for any country’s tourism industry. Over the years, tourists have become more adventurous and actively seek out authentically prepared traditional foods. Caribbean cuisine is no exception, and chefs around the country understand that importance. One such chef making her mark in Ambergris Caye is no other then Miss Shelly Huber.
Born to Vilma and Francisco Arceo, Shelly was the fifth child of the couple’s 12 children. Born on April 11th, 1956 in San Pedro Town, Shelly recalls the freedom available in the community. Along with the freedom she fondly remembers the respect for one another that made the small fishing village home.
Shelly attended San Pedro Roman Catholic School. “At that time, children would stay in school until the age of 14. Graduations were not a big production, we would just stay in school until we reached that age,” she commented. At the age of 14, Shelly got her first job as a cook at Paradise Resort Hotel. Shelly always enjoyed cooking and learned immensely from watching other people cook. At Paradise, she was allowed the freedom to experiment with different dishes. Having that freedom allowed her to create the Fish a la Paradise which was comprised of whole fish, tomato and onion rings, slivers of green peppers complimented by a spicy delicious Creole sauce and baked. It was a sure fire hit among her many customers.
Because of managerial reasons, Shelly resigned from her position at Paradise five years later. Through friends she found out that Caribeña Cooperative was looking for women to work in their establishment. Shelly went to work for them cleaning fish. “Depending on the load of work, at times there would be from 25 to 30 women working there,” she comments. Shelly worked there off and on for years.
Shelly met Tim Prevett, a Uruguayan who had come to live in San Pedro. The two fell in love and tied the knot on December 23rd, 1970. They have two children, Christopher (24) and Monica (23).
Through the years, Shelly’s cooking experience only intensified as she applied her growing expertise in various local establishments such as Ambergris Lodge, Fido’s Hotel, Barrier Reef Hotel, and Playador. “I learned from other people. I have always loved cooking because through cooking you can feed someone. Since I was a little girl on my first jobs, I would always cook a little extra should the case be that I needed to feed someone.”
In 1980, Shelly opened the first takeout diner. “In those times, guests would eat at their respective restaurants, but there was no establishment to feed the locals or guests from hotels at different hours. That is when I decided to open The Hut, where the Vilma Linda Plaza is now located,” she explains.
Because of irreconcilable differences, Shelly and her husband decided to get a divorce.
Destiny however, did not want Shelly to remain alone, she met her second husband, David Huber shortly after. The couple was married in a civil ceremony, the first for the year 1996 in the country, on February 14th. Shelly adopted David’s daughters who she loves immensely, Lisa (31) and Davelle (15).
Shelly received an offer to work at a new resort found in north Ambergris Caye which she gladly accepted. She went to work for Tranquility Bay, keeping the guests and staff delightfully happy with her delicious treats.
However, the Arceo sisters came together to make something for themselves and after much hard work, planning and dedication, the women opened Hakal Kiik, Mayan for “my sister’s place”. Hakal Kiik is open daily except on Sundays from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. At the quaint, Spanish colonial casita delicious, saucy, and enticing smells emanate daily. Keeping the neighbors, island and visitors happy are the toasty breads, home baked goodies, sweet rolls and pastries that are baked daily. Not to mention their fantastic lunch specials, which include delicacies such as fish steaks, pasta salads, conch soups and rice and beans.
The Culinary Institute of the Americas presented a week long course entitled Caribbean Cuisine Culinary Certificate Course. Shelly was one of those chefs who took advantage of the course and passed with flying colors, receiving a certificate of completion. Held at the Technical Institute for Vocation Education and Training (ITVET) in Belize City, the course was carried out from Monday, August 28th to Saturday, September 2nd. The course highlighted topics such as food presentation, menu planning, use of local ingredients, accompaniments and garnishes, vegetarian cuisine, and food presentation. Along with those items the various cultural influences were explored.
In her free time, Shelly enjoys spending time with her family especially her children, nieces and nephews. “They are my everything, my world!” she exclaims. Shelly believes that her biggest accomplishment is having become independent. “Women need to feel and be strong. We are pillars in our community. And to the new comers I say, ‘integrate yourselves in our community. I was born and raised here, take care of it, love it; enjoy it while benefiting from it.’” Always welcoming, friendly, and loving, she assists with everything that she can. With recipes handed down from generations as well as with her own great food creations, Miss Shelly Huber is cooking her way into the hearts of Our Community.