In the Kitchen with Chef Jourdan Cha′Taun
The saying goes “When life hands you lemons, you have to make lemonade…” but when it comes to chef Jourdan Cha’Tuan Atkinson, she made a gourmet meal.
Her passion for food began as a toddler when she’d work with wooden spoons by her grandmother’s side. Although her childhood included trauma and abuse, Jourdan overcame those tough and challenging times to follow and harness her dreams into a successful culinary career. We got the chance to chat with this inspiring woman and hear about what she likes to cook–and eat–and her mission to pay it forward.
Madame Noire: It seems that food was an early passion for you, but also a life-saver…
Jourdan Cha ‘Taun Atkinson: Cooking definitely kept me on the right path, I could have been out in the street, but instead I got lost in the kitchen and fell in love with experimenting with food.
MN: What was it about cooking that made you so passionate about it?
JCA: I’ve always been an artistic person, so creating recipes and experimenting with ingredients came pretty naturally. I like to compare being a fine artist to being a culinary artist. Instead of paint colors you’re using food. I have memories of being age three and doing basic things with my grandmother. Breakfast, I was trusted to be able to cook, it was sparked at a young age. When I was in the 8th grade, other people started to notice my cooking. I took a baking class and my teacher was impressed with my skills as well. It was an eye-opening year, but also probably the hardest year of my life because I was kicked out my home. Ultimately, I started caring for children in their homes and also cooking for the families. And was like a nanny/chef at 15.
MN: So you had these intense experiences that made you very independent and shaped your life…
JCA: I was out of the house at a young age and understood the idea, and importance, of doing something that you loved. I look back at it now and know that it was just preparation for what was coming my way.
MN: How did you get to culinary school?
JCA: I graduated high school and traveled around a bit and then went back to school in Seattle working three different jobs. I didn’t take out any loans, I believe in bartering and not having debt. I had a chance to meet Executive Chef Wayne Johnson and his personality impressed me. He was calm, and quiet and patient it was a whole different thing than I had been so accustomed to working with other chefs. They are usually very high-strung, and Chef Wayne wasn’t. After a meeting, I told him my goal of being a personal chef and I was able to start as a banquet chef at his Andaluca Restaurant in Seattle, Washington. It was a hard job and a good experience. He gave me responsibility and let me create menu items at 25-years-old…a very big deal.