This week’s Fly Female Entrepreneur is none other than Chef Danielle Saunders, celebrity culinary guru and the first black woman to win on the Food Network’s hit TV show, “Chopped.” As you may recall, Chef Danielle made her television debut on VH-1′s “I Want to Work for Diddy 2″ in 2009 as a guest chef and has been shining on the small screen ever since. Just last month, she made history on the Food Network again by taking home the “Chopped Champions” title, becoming the first woman to ever win the competition.
With a penchant for breaking barriers, this chef to the stars has cooked for countless celebs including Oprah Winfrey, Jann Wenner, Tom Hanks, and Kevin Liles yet remains grounded and focused. She may not have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but she was raised with a pan in her hand and an everlasting passion for the culinary arts.
Get up-close-and-personal with Chef Danielle Saunders as she “chops it up” with In Her Shoes about her auspicious beginnings, a new life in the fab lane, and turning passion into profits:
In Her Shoes: For many women, the process of transitioning from their current careers to the work they’re truly passionate about can be daunting. What did you do for a living before becoming a chef and how did you dive into your new life?
Chef Danielle: My entire journey getting to culinary school was fueled by selling women’s shoes at Nordstrom after I made my first adult decision to not continue my pharmaceutical studies at Norfolk State University. I used the money I made selling shoes to follow my heart and my passion. Unbeknownst to my parents, that was my decision so I stuck to it and never looked back. Cooking is something I’ve always loved and from the beginning I knew that I would end up in the professional realm of cooking. I’ll always remember my favorite chef in school saying “Look to your left. Now look to your right. The person sitting next to you probably won’t be in the industry long after school is out.” I knew that I didn’t want to be that person. When you love what you do, how can you lose?
In Her Shoes: When did you first realize that you truly have talent in the kitchen?
Chef Danielle: I’ve had a love affair with good food and creating the right ambiance in the kitchen my entire life but I have the most vivid memories of cooking from as young as 5 years old. I knew since then that cooking was my gift and my calling.
In Her Shoes: What is it about the culinary arts that fulfills you?
Chef Danielle: The entire process is fulfilling to me, especially seeing an empty plate! There’s no better feeling than someone enjoying a meal that you’ve created with love. I enjoy creating, learning, building bridges and great relationships through the dishes I prepare. Food to me is just as important as money.
In Her Shoes: What is a day like in Chef Danielle Saunders’ shoes?
Chef Danielle: A day in my shoes would be an eventful day! It normally starts around 6:30 a.m. and can range from opening my organic juice bar (The Market Place in Englewood, NJ) to dropping off meals to one of my VIP clients. On any given day I could also be working from my home office preparing menus and recipes for my many private catering engagements.
In Her Shoes: Congrats on being the first Black woman to win The Food Network’s Chopped competition! Tell us about that experience and any lessons learned during the process:
Chef Danielle: Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! God is good. My experience on “Chopped” was absolutely amazing. I normally work best under pressure, so my ball of nerves transformed into what I’d like to call “humble confidence.” Being the first African-American female chef to win the competition is amazing to me! Then to go on to be the first female ever to win “Chopped Champions” was just overwhelming because being a woman and especially a woman of color, we are often discounted as far as our professional culinary skill set and endurance. I learned so much from my Food Network experience but the biggest lesson learned would be that you really can do anything once you set a goal, focus on it and believe it can happen. In my mind before each competition, I had already won before I left home.
Chef Danielle’s Jambalaya
In Her Shoes: What advice do you have for a woman who’s ready to turn her passion for cooking into a paycheck?
Chef Danielle: My advice would be to follow your heart, believe in yourself and your dreams and always practice having faith over fear. Also, garner thick skin because you’re definitely going need it but stay positive. Make great food, grind hard and it will all be worth it!
In Her Shoes: Where can we experience your cooking in New York City?
Chef Danielle: Currently I am running my own catering business “It’s a Family Affair.” I am also in the middle of restaurant development concepts which will be coming to life soon!
Chef Marvin Woods
In Her Shoes: Who is your mentor in the culinary world?
Chef Danielle: The first culinary mentor I ever had was my late grandfather. I’m currently working on a cookbook incorporating his priceless recipes and memoirs. Two amazing chefs that have guided my career are celebrity chefs, Frank Miller and Marvin Woods. I love and respect them both tremendously. I also admire Chef Paula Dean & Chef G. Garvin. They’re my inspiration.
In Her Shoes: What do you have up your sleeves for 2012?
Chef Danielle: 2012 is going to be full of hard work and dedication! I will finish my cookbook and hopefully get a publishing deal, continue my work with Dr. Oz Garcia (supporting his eat right for your blood type theory), work with various charities and community organizations encouraging healthy eating, open my first restaurant venture at the top of 2013 and definitely do more TV. This is just the beginning of my journey and I’m most certainly ready for all of God’s blessings!
To learn more about Chef Danielle Saunders click here and follow her entrepreneurial journey on Twitter. Also, check back in later this week as Chef Danielle shares the recipe for her delectable Jambalaya (pictured above) with In Her Shoes!