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Meet these Black personal chefs who work in Charlotte, NC

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Chef Taylor Worsley said her White Hennessy Peach Cobbler is a fan favorite.

CharlotteFive

While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the restaurant industry, the personal chef business has been thriving. “A lot of people are missing going out to eat, so instead they are booking private chefs to come into their homes to provide good food and an experience,” said Charlotte chef Chianti Peek.

Whether it is to celebrate a special occasion, to ease the burden of cooking on a “staycation” or just a hassle-free desire to please the palate, personal chef services are seeing a large uptick due to the pandemic. According to Heart & Soul Personal Chef owner Lisa Brooks, “Our business has grown. The need to celebrate life’s moments didn’t disappear with COVID, it just had to be altered a bit.”

CharlotteFive spoke with Black personal chefs who are helping to satiate Charlotte. Their answers have been edited for clarity.

Chef Lisa G. Brooks

CEO and executive chef of Heart & Soul Personal Chef Service

Chef Lisa Brooks has gotten marriage proposals for her southern marinated filet mignon. Photo credit Amanda Richardson Photography. .jpeg
Chef Lisa Brooks has gotten marriage proposals for her Southern marinated filet mignon. Amanda Richardson Photography CharlotteFive

Although Chef Lisa Brooks always enjoyed cooking for family and friends, she didn’t realize until age 40 that it was a gift that would allow her to make a living. Stressed out in her corporate management position, she was suffering from panic attacks, back spasms and insomnia. “I asked God for a way out, and I heard him say simply to cook,” Brooks said.

Growing up, Brooks’ mother threw elaborate dinner parties and loved to entertain. Brooks would watch from the “kids room,” mesmerized by the sense of royalty and hospitality, longing to be a part of that magic. When she decided to become a chef, she knew that the long hours and impersonal service of cooking in a restaurant didn’t appeal to her. So after getting her Associates Degree in Culinary Arts from Central Piedmont Community College, she decided to become a personal chef.

Brooks serves as CEO and executive chef of Heart & Soul Personal Chef Service and said her decision to switch careers was the best decision of her life. “Being a part of people’s most cherished life celebrations is what I love about what I do. I’m able to interact with my hosts and guests and share my story — there’s a story behind almost every dish I serve,” Brooks said.

Personal chef services, like those provided by Heart & Soul Personal Chef Service, have seen an uptick due to COVID-19. Photo credit Amanda Richardson Photography.  .jpg
Personal chef services, like those provided by Heart & Soul Personal Chef Service, have seen an uptick due to COVID-19. Amanda Richardson Photography CharlotteFive

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

Folks think having a personal chef is something reserved for celebrities or the uber rich. Most of our clients are just regular people who love good food and want to spend a great night with friends and family without having to worry about a thing.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

I actually love when I host pop-up dinners and invite people to dine together in my home. They come as strangers and leave as friends. That’s the power of feasting together. I also love these events because it’s one of the few times a year when my entire team of chefs and servers all have the opportunity to work together at a single event. We are a family at Heart & Soul, and there’s nothing more validating than watching my team work together in providing our royal feasting experience. It’s like conducting a beautiful symphony.

Do you have a signature dish or a fan favorite meal?

Well, my Southern-marinated filet mignon has always prompted the response, ”best steak I’ve ever eaten in my life.” I have even gotten marriage proposals for my filet.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal/place to eat around town?

131 Main in Cornelius is my weekly go-to spot. I love the smoked salmon appetizer and the Metropolis Salad.

Chef Keisha LaShawn Corbett

Personal chef at Heart & Soul Personal Chef Service

Chef Keisha LaShawn Corbett’s family would host annual cookouts with hundreds of guests when she was growing up. Photo credit Amanda Richardson Photography.  .jpeg
Chef Keisha LaShawn Corbett’s family would host annual cookouts with hundreds of guests when she was growing up. Amanda Richardson Photography CharlotteFive

From a young age, Chef Keisha LaShawn Corbett was part of her grandfather’s crew of sous chefs. Wheelchair-bound due to polio, he made what Corbett deemed “the best” Brunswick stew and would recruit his grandkids to assist in the process. In fact, food is linked to many happy childhood memories for Corbett. Each year growing up, her family would host huge cookouts that would draw hundreds of guests and endless amounts of food.

Though originally trained as a nurse, Corbett had aspirations of owning a food truck and decided to go to culinary school. For the past two years, she has been working at Heart & Soul and experiencing what she calls “the joy of food and people.”

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

Many people think that being a person chef just means you cook for a particular family or individual all the time. Personal chefs do just about anything they desire now.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

My favorite experience cooking for a client actually was my first time providing a private dining experience. The couple had just closed on a new home that they had been saving for for more than a year. They decided that they needed a special dinner to celebrate, and I was actually a memorable part of it. It makes me excited to bring joy to people through food and fellowship.

Do you have a signature dish or a fan favorite meal?

I would say I don’t necessarily have a signature dish. I really enjoy cooking all things. As I think about it, I do have a great cajun pasta.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal/place to eat around town?

Barcelona Charlotte. Honestly I don’t eat out much at all. I find myself being too critical of restaurant food. I will say I do enjoy tapas just about anywhere because of the small plates that can pull some great flavors together in small bites.

Chef Joya Courtney

Chef, owner and author at Chef Joya

Chef Joya Courtney has a vegan cookbook out called It’s Soul Mahmazing. Photo credit Ann Norment..JPG
Chef Joya Courtney has a vegan cookbook out called “It’s Soul Mahmazing.” Ann Norment CharlotteFive

Growing up, if you were looking for Chef Adjoa “Joya” Courtney, chances are good you would find her in the kitchen. Raised vegan from age 7, Courtney’s curiosity around food started from the time she was young. She would watch whoever was cooking and pepper them with questions.

Although she would start her career as a makeup artist and beauty professional, with the encouragement of friends, family and her mentor, Chef Lisa Brooks, she decided to pursue her passion for cooking full time in 2018. Since then she has garnered a large social media following, presenting online cooking demonstrations, teaching about preparing vegan cuisine and recently writing a cookbook. As a vegan chef, Courtney focuses on putting plant-based spin on traditional dishes and loves to experiment with different cultural flavors.

Was there anyone in particular who inspired, influenced, or encouraged to become a chef?

My inspiration to become a chef came from my friends and children. The idea of specializing in vegan cuisine came from Chef Lisa Brooks, who is my chef mentor.

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

That it’s very expensive. When you think about all of the time you spend on creating a menu, grocery shopping, labor and packaging, it’s more affordable to hire someone to do it for you. A personal chef allows you to focus more on your family, work, goals, without having to worry about what’s for dinner. Someone else is there to make delicious and nutritious meals just for you.

How has COVID affected your business?

COVID has positively affected my business. Not only am I a personal chef, but I’m also now an author, a digital content creator, and an influencer. During this time, I was able to complete the cookbook that I’d been promising to my followers for more than a year. My social media following has grown significantly. I believe people were able to finally sit down and learn more about their health and ended up finding me. I’ve been super busy with private dining gigs and small catering drop-offs. Work has been steady.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

Honestly, they all are wonderful; however, I loved it when I had the opportunity to cook for media personality and popular vegan influencer Tabitha Brown and her family during this past holiday season. She was so impressed with the food that she told the world about me. That felt good.

Do you have a signature dish or a fan favorite meal?

Yes, I do! I am known as the Mac Queen. I never knew you could change the world with vegan Mac & Cheez.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal/place to eat around town?

I love rice and sandwiches. My favorite type of food to eat when I’m not cooking is Vietnamese.

Chef Tracey Mitchell

Chef at Heart and Soul Personal Chef Service

Entertainment runs in the blood for Chef Tracey Mitchell, whose grew up watching her New York socialite grandparents entertain. Photo credit Amanda Richardson Photography.   .jpeg
Entertainment runs in the blood for Chef Tracey Mitchell, who grew up watching her New York socialite grandparents entertain. Amanda Richardson Photography CharlotteFive

Constantly sneaking into the kitchen as a child to look into the pots and pans and see what was cooking got Chef Tracey Mitchell her very first job in the kitchen. “I mostly grated cheese or cabbage, until I was promoted to chopping celery and onion,” Mitchell recalled. Years later, Mitchell would receive formal training, obtaining a Culinary Arts Degree from Central Piedmont Community College and going on to work at country clubs, hotels, hospitals and nursing homes. Mitchell eventually transitioned to being a personal chef, a role she has held for the last five years.

Mitchell was influenced from an early age by her maternal and paternal grandparents — both of whom were socialites in New York in the 1950s. “My Nana made costumes for groups like the Supremes. It was before my time, however they were still throwing parties when I was young,” Mitchell said. “For a long time growing up, I thought Christmas and New Year’s were one day after the other. They always entertained with food and it took up the week. Imagine my surprise when I figured out there was an entire week between them.”

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

I can’t think of a misperception. Essentially, we become part of the client’s family. We have to know just about everything about likes, dislikes, anniversaries, birthdays, allergies, sensitivities. Is company coming? Add another plate.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

Recently a client put a little note in with their selections about wanting a “fun” house salad. Chef Lisa Brooks had just found these tiny tomatoes. I liberated them from her kitchen. When the client saw those she squealed. That felt amazing. And when you catch someone dancing after they’ve taken a bite of your food.

Do you have a signature dish or a fan favorite meal?

I can’t say that I have just one dish. I love what I do, and I want it all to be a fan favorite so I put my everything into every dish. I’m a perfectionist.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal/place to eat around town?

I like the mom-and-pop spots mostly. Where they aren’t rushing to turn the table for the next cover. The ones that put their heart and soul into it like we do.

Chef Anthony Smith

Executive chef and owner at Chef’s Kitchen

Chef Anthony Smith said his Salmon New Orleans is so popular, he goes through more than 80 lbs of salmon a week. Photo credit Todd Youngblood..jpg
Chef Anthony Smith said his Salmon New Orleans is so popular, he goes through more than 80 pounds of salmon a week. Todd Youngblood CharlotteFive

Chef Anthony Smith started his career in the restaurant business 15 years ago as a dishwasher. He worked at restaurants, country clubs and catering companies, watching and learning, and eventually working his way up to executive chef. He now owns Chefs Kitchen in South End, which offers takeout, full-service catering and personal chef services. He credits Chef Kareem Dunbar, Chef Carlo Martinez, Tim Toohey, John Esposito and photographer Todd Youngblood with inspiring him to take the leap and start his own business.

The first real dish Smith ever made? Chicken Francaise. He joked, “One of the chefs who taught me only taught me so he could get days off.” That one dish would lead to a growing culinary reputation that eventually resulted in Smith cooking for big name clients from the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants and New York Nicks. But, don’t call him a celebrity chef.

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

That the individual must be wealthy in order to have a personal chef. That— I promise you — isn’t true. Being a personal chef means you can have specific clients that you do in home meals for on a daily basis. Some are just meals preps, some are only catering, so the prices for each of the services vary.

How has COVID affected your business?

It’s affected our corporate catering business a lot. About 99{d05f388fa08f4d675a822acf1486e94712302178bac778b4b99d28e44a90be3a} of that is gone. So we’ve come up with new ways to try to get that revenue back. Offering takeout, and most recently we signed a lease out in Lake Wylie for a sit-down restaurant, so that’s exciting. Obviously catering in general has taken a hit since people aren’t gathering in large groups, so the catering gigs are much smaller and more intimate. As of late, we’ve been doing a lot of small birthday parties, baby showers etc.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

I don’t really have a favorite experience. I honestly enjoy all my interactions with my clients — the good and the bad. Everything and every day is always a learning experience.

Do you have a signature dish or a fan favorite meal?

Everything we make is really good! Our Salmon New Orleans is our top seller, though. We go through over 80 pounds of salmon a week just off the strength of that dish.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal/place to eat around town?

Favorite meal . . . pizza, Honey Buns and Red Bull. I don’t really eat — I just snack.

Chef Chianti Peek

Owner at Chef Chianti

Chef Chianti Peek’s first private chef job was with Cam Newton. After that meal, locals asked what she put in his food because the Panthers went on to win every game and make it to the Super Bowl. Photo credit Amy Anderplow. .png
Chef Chianti Peek’s first private chef job was with Cam Newton. After that meal, locals asked what she put in his food because the Panthers went on to win every game and made it to the Super Bowl. Amy Anderplow CharlotteFive

Chianti Peek grew up surrounded by a family of chefs. Her father was a baker and a cook, as was her grandmother and several other family members. She recalls dragging a chair over to the stove as a child just so she could watch them in action. She said, ”Cooking is heredity for me.”

From the very first meal she made at age 8 —spaghetti — to cooking for athletes and celebrities like Cardi B, Da Baby, Cam Newton and Michael Kid-Gilchrest, Peek has honed her craft. She spent the last 10 years working in casual and fine dining restaurants around Charlotte before ultimately launching her own personal chef business. It is a career she fell into after being laid off during the last recession and one that ultimately led her to becoming the full-time chef for NBA All-Star Kemba Walker.

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

People think you have to be a “celebrity” to have a personal chef, but a personal chef is there to provide fresh home-cooked meals that fit everyone’s dietary needs.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

My first private chef job was with Cam Newton, and it was his first game of the Super Bowl season. At the time, I was trying to get my name out there in Charlotte. After that one meal, the Panthers won every game, leading us to Super Bowl 50. Locals started asking me what I put in his food. After that, my career as a personal chef took off!

What is a fan favorite meal of yours?

My banana pudding.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal around town?

Deejai Noodle Bar NoDa and Little Village Grill. Those are my favorites.

Chef Kevin Winston

Owner at Chef Kevin Winston

Chef Kevin Winston has an elite client list that includes celebrities and athletes. Photo credit Ronnie “Bluz Vizuals”  such as Nipsey Hussle, Christian McCaffrey and Justin Bieber.  .jpg
Chef Kevin Winston has an elite client list that includes celebrities and athletes such as Nipsey Hussle, Christian McCaffrey and Justin Bieber. Ronnie Harrington/Bluz Vizuals CharlotteFive

With training at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School, a portfolio of clients that includes Christian McCaffery and Justin Beiber, and experience working with chefs Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck, Chef Kevin Winston’s resume is nothing short of impressive. But his love for cooking comes down to one simple fact according to Winston, “I love to eat.”

This love of food drove Winston to watch and learn from his parents and grandmother in the kitchen growing up. He would wake up early on Saturday mornings and make breakfast for his family and could be found hanging out at his family’s Kansas City BBQ Joint.

Winston decided to follow his passion for cooking after working in the music industry as a promotions and marketing coordinator just over 10 years ago. Inspired by mentors Chef Richard Ingram and Chef Jeff Henderson, Winston has been preparing private meals for elite clientele for the last decade. He has also built out a variety of offerings, including cooking classes and demonstrations, sports nutrition coaching and a cookbook called The Flavor Playbook.

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

I believe the most common misconception about being a chef is that our service isn’t luxury. Having a personal chef isn’t just about convenience, it’s about the experience, atmosphere and the luxury that comes from having someone privately and personally prepare meals for you in your home.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

When I was given the opportunity to cook for a very prominent rap artist, Nipsey Hussle, who has since passed away. He was extremely talented but also very wise. The experience was great in terms of learning knowledge about business and true entrepreneurship.

What is a fan favorite meal of yours?

My favorite meal of mine is marinated filet steak with spicy au gratin potatoes. It’s incredible, and I highly suggest it. I know the chef.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal around town?

Right now, I’m loving the RH Rooftop Restaurant. The vibe is great, and the food is even better. My wife and I are regulars.

Chef Taylor Worsley

Chef and Owner, Chef Tays Creations

Chef Taylor Worsley says her White Hennessy Peach Cobbler is a fan favorite. Photo courtesy of Taylor Worsley..JPG
Chef Taylor Worsley said her White Hennessy Peach Cobbler is a fan favorite. Courtesy of Taylor Worsley CharlotteFive

A graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Chef Taylor Worsley was first inspired to get into the culinary field by her cousin Jarret. He taught her how to make homemade cinnamon rolls and, along with the rest of Worsley’s family, he always pushed her to follow her dreams. “There was always one motto that I was told growing up and I follow to this day, “Go hard or go home,” Worsley said.

From making her mother’s famous fried chicken and working her first cooking job at The Broken Egg, to launching her own business and self-publishing a cookbook, Worsley has been working to build her business since 2018.

What is a common misperception about having a personal chef?

Most people think that we are the same and overpriced.

How has COVID affected your business?

COVID has helped my business, bringing me some wonderful new clients.

What is one of your favorite experiences cooking for a client?

I love getting the opportunity to show my clients my passion for cooking and giving them insight into my life as a chef.

Do you have a signature dish or a fan favorite meal?

My signature dishes are anything with chicken. One of my fan favorites is my White Hennessy Peach Cobbler.

When you aren’t cooking for yourself, what is your favorite meal/place to eat around town?

When I’m not cooking, one of my favorite meals is my mom’s fried chicken and collard greens, my grandma’s mac & cheese and to top it off, my great aunts peach cobbler. I don’t have a favorite restaurant, but some of my go-to places are Pinky’s and Three Amigos Mexican Grill and Cantina.

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Laurie Larsh is a freelance writer and travel junkie with an affinity for sunglasses, coffee and all things Tarheels. Relentless curiosity about people and places keep her wondering and wandering near and far and writing stories about it. Follow her travel adventures on Instagram @goexplauring or her website wwww.goexplauring.com.

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