Chef Dedra Blount Of Now You’re Cooking Culinary Studio: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restauranteur

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
7 min readFeb 13, 2022

--

Do it for the love and not for the money. Don’t become complacent. Never stop learning and always make time for yourself. Perhaps that sounds overly simplistic. If these are the filters that drive your decisions, whether internally for the business and career, or externally for your family and self-care, you’ll find you’re doing well.

As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘TasteMakers’, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chef Dedra Blount, CEO of Now You’re Cooking Culinary Studio in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Chef Dedra Blount and her identical twin sister, Debra Brabson, opened Now You’re Cooking Culinary Studio to share their passion for healthy meals through education, exploration and invitation to the culinary arts. They firmly believe food heals, both internally and externally, gathering the family in the kitchen and around the table to learn and grow together. Chef Dedra Blount earned her Associate’s Degree in Culinary Arts from Johnson & Wales University in Norfolk, Virginia in 1991, followed by a Bachelor’s Degree in Food Service Management at Johnson & Wales’ Providence, Rhode Island campus in 1993. She is a CCI-Certified Culinary Instructor and an FMP-Food Service Management Professional. She also serves as the Lead Chef for the American Heart Association’s mobile kitchen unit in Hampton Roads, Virginia. A culinary educator for over 28 years, teaching at both the high school and collegiate level, “Chef D” also advocates for special needs children and adults, alongside her sister, Debra, the Culinary Director for their Be Kind Bakery and Super Hero Chef training program. She believes that food is life, that any and everyone can enjoy cooking and do it well, and that family flourishes in the kitchen. The family that plays together, stays together.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

My paternal grandmother is my inspiration for becoming a chef. She prepared the most amazing food that placed a smile on everyone’s face. As long as I stay focused on creating food that makes others smile, I know I’m on the right track.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

I don’t have a particular style that I focus on, but I do stress the message that “Soul food is whole food.” To me, that simply means that any dish that comes from your roots and your heritage is whole. No matter how basic or simple.

One of my favorite things to do with my students is to visit a local farmers market and bring back ingredients for a taste test. I give them free reign to communicate their taste preferences and experiences, good, bad or otherwise, which cultivates a dialogue about recipes and cultures where those ingredients are staples or favorites.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

This interview is not long enough to contain all of my funny and interesting stories! One that swiftly came to mind was when I was conducting a demonstration at a local high school. I was making stir fry — usually a fan favorite — and the students were not giving me the usual positive feedback. One of the students asked about the dark sauce on the table. I confidently responded that it was soy sauce. The student gave me a quizzical look and said “I’ve never seen soy sauce spelled with a W.” It was Worcestershire sauce! How embarrassing!

Lesson learned — It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve prepared a meal before, always check your ingredients carefully.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

The greatest challenge I had to overcome at the beginning of my career was navigating the lack of respect shown to me as a small, educated black woman. For many, having a culinary degree means nothing once you step into the kitchen. No credit is given. No acknowledgement of skill. They don’t care where you’ve been. They’re only interested in what you can do in that kitchen at that moment. Couple that with being a short black woman, well, it’s putting it lightly to say the cards were stacked against me. I had to put my head down, close my mouth and get to work. That really was the only way. I had to prove myself. I had to stand firm and hold my own in kitchens run predominantly by white men.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

You must believe in what you’ve created. You must explore and experiment, understanding every bit of flavor, and layer love in between.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

My perfect meal would be a multi-course meal with an aesthetically pleasing tablescape of fresh flowers and candles. Nothing weird or extravagant, just platters and small plates of brightly colored foods and beverages. Oh! And bubbles!! Lots and lots of bubbles! Sparkling drinks are my fav! They make me feel fancy!!

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

My inspiration comes from what’s growing locally. I love waiting for some of my seasonal favorites to make their debut. I am blessed to teach culinary arts to children. My daily boost and creativity come from them! It’s amazing to see and experience food from their perspective. They keep me on my toes and always challenge me to never get complacent with food. They keep my wonder alive.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

I am currently working to find and build a mobile kitchen unit, such as a bus, RV or trailer, that will travel to teach cooking classes to underserved communities. If they can’t come to me, I will go to them! I believe the impact of this project will be life-changing for those who are curious about food, but lack the resources, access and support that will unlock opportunity and good health.

What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

Do it for the love and not for the money. Don’t become complacent. Never stop learning and always make time for yourself. Perhaps that sounds overly simplistic. If these are the filters that drive your decisions, whether internally for the business and career, or externally for your family and self-care, you’ll find you’re doing well.

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

1. Get some rest! Chefs often run on adrenaline and caffeine. For many of us, the pandemic was the first time in our careers that we actually had time off to spend time with our friends and families.

2. Always be willing to try new things. On my very first day of culinary school, I had to try beef tongue. I seriously thought I would die. Shockingly, I found it tasted great! I never would have known if I hadn’t tried. As a chef, I have a creative responsibility to taste, taste, and taste some more.

3. Don’t give away your “secret” recipes. When we work in a kitchen, we go out of our way to please and impress our chefs and owners. It comes with a price. They will take your recipes and ideas and take credit for them. I think I’ll let you read between the lines as to my personal story and experience here. I learned this lesson the hard way.

4. Buy more than one pair of work shoes and rotate them. You only get one pair of feet! Take care of them! There have been many nights after a long shift, sitting in the car for an hour trying to put my shoes back on because I drove home barefoot.

5. Take care of your body. Chefs work hard! If we don’t take care of our bodies, it will show in the years to come.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

My bread! I make the best southern style yeast rolls and sweet potato biscuits. Mmmm mmm good. They’ll make you smile. I promise.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Hands down, teaching children to cook. I am absolutely committed to moving children beyond basic cooking skills, and into understanding their heritage and how food impacted their ancestors. Reaching back to our past to embrace and understand the foods that brought our friends and families together will cultivate respect for our elders, greater pride in our culture and I believe, deeper creativity as new culinary ideas are inspired by meaningful memories.

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

--

--