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On Island Profile: Harry Ralph

June 8, 2008 — Harry Ralph has a slow smile, a gentle nature, a wife of 31 years, four daughters, one son, three grandchildren, three grown dogs, one puppy, a bunch of chickens, a dedicated culinary following, a passion for cricket and a Tommy Star award. You could say Ralph is a happy man.
Ralph and his wife, Vernarine, raised four daughters and then had a son. Ralph was very happy about the son — it was a surprise, as there are no sonograms for the Ralphs — but just as happy about the girls.
"It's a pleasure when you have kids, it makes you feel good inside," Ralph says.
It's the same way he feels about preparing food. "I love to cook and make people happy," he says, as he takes some time from behind the range to relax and chat in a booth at Hook, Line and Sinker, where he has been daytime chef for the last 18 years.
Cooking comes just as naturally to Ralph as raising a big family; he simply puts one foot ahead of the other and does what comes naturally. Conflict is not in his nature. He is a gentle soul, soft-spoken in a sometimes chaotic kitchen.
Since moving to St. Thomas from Antigua in 1969, Ralph has never been out from behind the grill. On a Sunday morning with eggs Benedict and French toast flying off the grill, Ralph simply turns the orders out. Chef histrionics are not his cup of tea.
This is not to say he's above reminding a waitress that her order makes no sense; he will. Ralph loves his kitchen as he does his family. It's a matter of pride.
"It make me feel so good when somebody comes back to tell me they liked something," he says.
In fact, Ralph has a serious weekday following. There had better be meat loaf on Wednesday, turkey on Friday, and grouper in lemon cream every day.
Ralph and Vernarine met on St. Thomas, and they celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary June 4. "Just the two of us, we went to a buffet at the Reef," he says. "We do that, you know, go out on a date," he laughs.
For many years he held two jobs, while Vernarine studied and worked as a teacher's assistant at the University of the Virgin Islands.
"You do what you have to," Ralph says. The jobs, however, never interfered with raising the girls. "I always picked up the girls from school. Even with two jobs, you have to make sure they are taken care of."
Ralph is adamant in his views about raising a family. "You always have to be there," he says. "It's give and take," he says.
He admits to getting a few objections from the girls when he'd take them to cricket practice. The youngsters were brought up in the Wesleyan Holiness Church, where Ralph says he is cooking 75 breakfasts for Father's Day.
He has definite ideas about the value of a family in community life. "I see so many families fall apart," he says. "They don't stay together; it's jealousy, misunderstanding, lack of communication." He pauses, "What is that saying? A mind is a terrible thing to waste? A family is a terrible thing to waste."
All the girls either have graduated from college, or are still taking classes online. Except for Kim, 36, who lives in Orlando, Fla., the other three live on St. Thomas. Vernalee, 30, works for Sen. Celestino White, and the other two girls Vernalyn, 28, and Vernecia, nicknamed Jossette, 24, work in the hospitality industry.
And there's the youngest, Shaquille, 14, who is the apple of his father's eye, so to speak. "He loves cooking," Ralph says of the Charlotte Amalie High School sophomore. "He takes to it just like I did. He helps me in the kitchen here, and he already has plans for culinary school."
In 2006, Ralph won the 2006 V.I. Hotel Association Tommy Star award for restaurant associate. Though it was already a red letter night, it had an extra special meaning. After graduating from UVI, Jossette had just completed one year in Iraq with the V.I. National Guard, and got home just in time for the celebration. "That was the best part," Ralph says.
He was patriarch of the evening, holding court with an overflowing table of family, including his then-2 ½-year-old granddaughter Kihja, who won the hearts of the audience when she followed her grandfather up to the stage.
"I had to take a sip of water before I could walk up there," Ralph remembers. "And then everybody started laughing when they saw Kihja."
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