Your Resident Gourmet Founder Chef Jennifer Hill Booker Enjoys The Heat The Kitchen Brings
Sure there’s Chef Gordon Ramsey, Bobby Flay, Wolfgang Puck, and Marcus Samuelsson. But for all these men you only have a handful of really famous female chefs, such as the late Julia Childs, Rachael Ray, Nigella Lawson and Leah Chase out of New Orleans. But it is still hard for Black chefs and women to get into the top sphere of the culinary industry.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, while women make up a majority of the U.S. food service industry, there’s more women CEOs than head chefs.
“Women occupy just 6.3 percent, or 10 out of 160 head chef positions at 15 prominent U.S. restaurant groups analyzed by Bloomberg,” reports Bloomberg.
However there is a strong female presence at two of the country’s best cooking schools. For the past decade, women have made up more than 40 percent of the International Culinary Center’s classic (i.e. non-pastry) graduates. And at the Culinary Institute of America, enrollment by women in the culinary arts associates program has jumped from 28 percent in 2003 to 35 percent in 2012.
While women are underrepresented, Blacks are missing as well. In fact, Black chefs are dramatically underrepresented in the industry, making up merely nine percent compared to white chefs, who account for 60 percent, reports The Huffington Post.
Chef Jennifer Hill Booker ran into challenges landing a restaurant job not only in the States but abroad as well. So she ventured out on her own and launched Your Resident Gourmet, through which she offers personal chef services, chef cooking instruction, cooking demonstrations, and catering.
She recently published her first cookbook, Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes with a French Accent. She was also selected to be a Georgia Grown Executive Chef, by the Georgia Department of Agriculture. She was an adjunct instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-Atlanta and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Tulsa where she graduated at the top of her class with an Associates of Occupational Science from Oklahoma State University. She then went on to earn top honors from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Paris with a Base de Cuisine certificate.
MadameNoire: What got you interested in the culinary industry?
Jennifer Hill Booker: My family are farmers and hunters so food was very central in my life; all the good times and laughter were centered around food and I just wanted to remain in that atmosphere.
MN: Once you decided this was the field for you, how did you pursue your passion?
JHB: As a kid and a young teen I would always cook for my family and tried new recipes. I’d watched Julia Childs on television. I wanted to go to the Culinary Institute right out of high school, but my family wanted me to go to a traditional college. Being a chef at that time was not very glamorous.
So I went to the University of Tulsa, then later to Oklahoma State Institute of Technology for a culinary degree. Later I was able to study in Paris at the Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. It was very challenging and the culture of food there is very focused. People cook fresh and seasonal. I loved it.
MN: How were the job opportunities?
JHB: While I was living overseas, living in Germany before I went to France, it was very difficult for a female, a Black person to get a job at a restaurant. So I started my own business, Your Resident Gourmet. And I have been doing that business ever since.
After I came back to the States, I had a couple of children which kept me out of working in a restaurant. Then Cordon Bleu opened a branch in Georgia. I applied and got the job as instructor at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-Atlanta
I was at the Cordon Bleu for four years. Then Grayson Technical High School recruited me as the Director of Culinary Arts and while I was there the school got was the first high school to get certification through the American Culinary Federation. Then I made the decision to quit so I could concentrate on my cookbook.
MN: What prompted you to write the cookbook?
JHB: I has always carried these recipes around in my heart and in my head and I wanted a cookbook to pay homage to my legacy, which is Black farmers. I learned that the culture to cooking in Paris was very similar to southern cooking in that they use fresh and seasonal ingredients. I was able to take my family’s recipes to give them a little twist, a French twist.
MN: What were some obstacles you faced?
JHB: The culinary field is still very much a male-dominated field. There are some more women as chefs but not in the restaurants. There are still some times you have to deal with people who don’t want women to be in there. You have to just go in and do your job and not be sidelined by the politics of the business. You have to be prepared for the pushback; you just have to be able to deal with it.
MN: What advice would you give other women wanting to enter the industry?
JHB: Know that it’s not only hard to break into the industry, it’s physically hard work. And also often times even when you have a career women are still expected to run the household. This can be a lot.
MN: What are your goals for the future?
JHB: Funny you should ask. In the next few years I want to open a kitchen studio space to offer meals and a space to do cooking demonstrations, hands-on class as well as do merchandising, like my book.
And I am working on my second book.
MN: How did you get selected as one of the top chefs in Georgie by the Agricultural Department in 2013?
JHB: My cooking belief has always been to cook using seasonal and local goods. So when then Department of Agriculture of Georgia started the Georgia Grown program, they looked for chefs who supported that same philosophy.
MN: Everyone says the culinary industry is one of the toughest. How do you persevere?
JHB: I am very stubborn, very focused oriented and goal driven. Sometimes I get bumps and bruises but I love what I do.