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On Making a Difference Through Food: An Interview with Jamie Hunt

Our BlackHer Shero of the Week is Jamie Hunt, celebrity chef.  I talked to her about her mission to use food to make a difference and her recent partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, New Jersey.

Why did you become a chef? 

Both of my parents were really good cooks. I don’t remember disliking anything that they cooked. I think that the idea of being a chef was always there, but it came to the forefront when both of my parents got sick and died from cancer. At that point, I believe that God was creating this path for me. I am the youngest of four girls, and it was time for me to figure out what to do with both of my pillars gone. 

I was working at a Fortune 500 company, but it wasn’t enough. One night I saw an infomercial about the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), and I wrote down the number. The next day I called to get more information. I talked to a counselor about the program, and she made it sound so exciting! I applied to the school and was accepted several weeks later. 

I shared the news with my oldest sister, and she said, “That’s great, but do you have a plan?” I didn’t. So I spent the next several days creating one. I had to figure out how I would sustain myself while not working and wrap up my business at home. Before I knew it, I was headed to Poughkeepsie, New York!

In addition to marrying my husband and having children, attending the CIA was one of the best experiences of my life. And my sister’s advice to create a plan before embarking on new adventures is something that I’ve carried with me ever since. 

You’ve said that your mission is to make a difference through food. What does that mean to you?

After cooking school, I got a job at the Community College in Yonkers, N.Y. teaching kids how to cook. I thought this job would be a piece of cake! (No pun intended.) I wasn’t expecting to be transformed by the job, but the program did something to me. It became clear that I could use food as a way to connect with my students. 

Instead of just cooking together, we started talking about how foods create memories. I also started teaching my students the nutritional value of each dish. I wanted them to start thinking more deeply about the food they were creating and eating and encourage them to try new foods instead of going for the vending machine. 

I’ve also tried to help my students understand how the food that they eat impacts things they care about. For example, I tell my girl students that spinach is loaded with vitamins that help to produce healthy hair and skin. I tell my athletes that eating leafy green vegetables can increase their athletic performance. 

Black women are facing an unprecedented health crisis. According to Girl Trek, 82% of Black women are over a healthy weight. Does this fact influence your cooking?

I believe that there is a time and a place for guilty pleasures as long as it’s not every day of the week. Personally, I’m focused on staying as fit as possible, drinking lots of water, which is difficult for me, and eating healthy. One thing I don’t do enough of is sleep.

One of the benefits of being a personal chef is that I’ve had the opportunity to learn about many cultures, cuisines, and diet programs. Regardless of what I’m cooking, I’m always focused on creating the healthiest food possible.

You have a new partnership with the Boys & Girls Club of Newark, N.J. Can you tell us about that?

Yes! I’m partnering with the Boys & Girls Club of Newark to create The Inspired Garden. It launches on May 15th. I’ll be gardening with 15 – 20 kids to plant, grow, manage, harvest, and taste fruits and vegetables. We’re expecting to have enough of a harvest for the kids to take veggies home and host an in-house farmers market. I’m so excited to work with the kids to dig in the garden, plant, and watch things grow! 

We’ll be growing Brussels sprouts, eggplant, a variety of tomatoes and herbs, watermelon, beans, zucchini, strawberries, and more! 

If this pilot goes well, I hope to expand the program. 

Jamie, what are your favorite foods to eat?

I love Dim Sum! But only from San Francisco. My second favorite food is fried oysters.

You’re making me hungry! Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you want to share with us?

Yes, during the pandemic, we created two virtual cooking classes for parents and kids. The first is Kids in the Kitchen. We create a new dish every week. This week, we’re making pizza from scratch including the dough. While cooking, we also practice reading, math, and public speaking, because cooking involves all of these skills. It’s a lot of fun!

Our virtual cooking class for adults is called the Saturday Night Supper Club. We created our virtual Supper Club during the pandemic to find a way to still get together with friends and family members. Every Saturday, we cook a simple meal together, and a mixologist joins us to create a special drink. We end the night with a game. This month, we’re playing jeopardy. Folks have joined us from every time zone; it’s been great finding a new way to commune!

Let me ask you the miracle question. You go to sleep tonight and wake up tomorrow, and a miracle has occurred for Black women. What happened?

Opportunities are open for women. There are no more barriers or obstacles in our way.

Amen.

To learn more about Chef Jamie, follow her on Instagram and check out her website.

To register for her virtual cooking classes for children and adults, go here.

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