By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A Bahamian chef who catered to the ill-fated Fyre Festival yesterday said he plans to sue for monies owed to him, having been hired for the event by two University of the Bahamas (UoB) professors and a Ministry of Tourism executive.
Denaldo Bain told Tribune Business that he and others transported to Exuma would never have become involved with Fyre Festival had it not been for the calibre of persons who recruited them.
He revealed that the catering venture was organised by Donna M. Williams, assistant professor of food safety and sanitation at the University, who also trains instructors to teach the Government’s food handling certification course.
Mr Bain said she appeared to have partnered with Chef Aldred Saunders, the University’s assistant professor of baking and pastry, and DeAnne Gibson, the Ministry of Tourism’s manager of culinary tourism, to provide the Fyre Festival’s catering needs via a company they had specifically created for the event, called Cater Fyre.
Tribune Business yesterday repeatedly attempted to reach all three of Chef Saunders, Ms Williams and Mrs Gibson, the latter two understood to be sisters, for comment. However, none of Tribune Business’s phone calls, e-mail messages or voice mails were returned by any of the trio.
Mr Bain’s Fyre Festival account, though, raises further questions as to how deeply the Ministry of Tourism and its officials were involved with the event, and whether this impacted the Government’s handling of the fiasco - particularly whether the alarm should have been raised about the impending disaster earlier.
Recalling how he became involved, Mr Bain said that he and around 50 other persons were contacted for the Cater Fyre escapade by the UoB professors.
He explained that they used their School of Hospitality and Tourism contacts to recruit himself and other former UoB culinary graduates were recruited, along with current students, past and present lecturers and University of the West Indies graduates.
An April 24, 2017, e-mail sent by Chef Saunders welcomed him to the ‘Cater Fyre team’, and called members’ to an evening meeting at Donna Williams’ Skyline Lakes residence, where they were to be briefed on accommodations, facilities and transportation to Exuma.
“It clearly wasn’t anything official, in any capacity, in the way the operation was run,” Mr Bain said of the Cater Fyre venture.
“It was never really questioned because these are people we trust. “It’s [UoB] really like a community. It was not hard [to put together] at all.
“It was a last minute thing. If it was any other company, anyone else, we’d have been sceptical and no one would have moved an inch. We went trusting our peers.”
Mr Bain said ‘Cater Fyre’s contract was worth $1.1 million, although that could not be confirmed. He and other members of the catering team arrived on Exuma on Thursday, April 27, the day before Fyre Festival completely fell apart.
Explaining that the facilities were far from the luxurious surrounding promised, he told Tribune Business: “It was a shambles. The kitchen was horrible, there were 2 x 4 plywood everywhere.
“The electricity and gas people were still trying to put that in, and there was no plumbing at all.” Mr Bain said catering staff were forced to cook, and clean both themselves and the kitchen, with bottled water.
He added that there were no refrigerators or freezers, so food was still packed in coolers. And the accommodation was some kind of cruiser moored off Exuma.
Mr Bain said all three of ‘Cater Fyre’s’ organisers were present at the Festival, and added that Mrs Gibson was wearing her Ministry of Tourism polo shirt with the culinary tourism logo while in attendance.
“If she was not there in an official capacity, she was there in an unofficial capacity,” Mr Bain added of Mrs Gibson.
Fyre Festival was officially cancelled the following day, Friday, April 28, but Mr Bain said he and the catering team stuck around to ensure persons had something to eat, eventually leaving Exuma at around 11pm that night.
Confirming that neither himself nor any other ‘Cater Fyre’ hire had been paid what was promised to them, Mr Bain told Tribune Business: “It’s pretty rough. Everybody gave up their own businesses and jobs to go there.”
He said the only post-Festival communication had come from Chef Saunders on May 8, 2017, which read: “Due to the failure of the Fyre Festival and the circumstances surrounding that, we Cater Fyre, have not received the payment due to us.
“However, the Ministry [of Tourism] has intervened and as soon as we have received the funds you will be paid. We are working hard to ensure that payment is made as soon as possible.”
No payment has yet been received, and with Festival organisers, Ja Rule and William McFarland, yet to pay staff at their company, Fyre Media, the changes of Bahamian vendors, labourers and workers being paid a single cent, let alone 100 per cent of what is owed, seems to be receding by the day.
“I’m trying to shake some trees before I get legal, which I intend to do this week,” Mr Bain told Tribune Business, implying that he is set to head for the courts.
“We all want all of our money. We were only there for two days, but we want to get paid for what we were contracted for. Whatever happened, we need to get paid all our money. You hired us to do this job, and nobody is telling us anything.”