Chef Jen is a registered dietitian and went to culinary school after getting her undergraduate degree. She is from my hometown, Holland, Michigan. I met her because my sister is also a chef and they worked together for a little while last year. Jen basically has my dream job. I love that she took her passion for cooking and combined it with her knowledge of nutrition to create a niche market of personalized catering to her clients. She focuses on using seasonal foods in her unique and creative recipes like fried plantains with chipotle pineapple guacamole! She owns her own private chef business and offers cooking classes, catering for parties, beer and wine pairings, and cooking demonstrations that can also be combined with healthy foods and nutrition education. Be sure to try her recipes and check out her blog here.
I grew up cooking with my grandparents (my grandpa had a huge garden so we were always exploring in it and trying new foods) and there’s even pictures that I drew in elementary school of myself cooking so I think the chef career was something I was super interested in from the start. My younger sister is type 1 diabetic and I would tag along with my mom to her dietitian appointments growing up, so that was also a career I was familiar with. In high school I continued to job shadow some dietitians in my area and decided that I wanted to go to Michigan State for dietetics. It wasn’t until I turned 25 and had been working as a dietitian for a while that I realized I needed to pursue by true passion of cooking and go to culinary school. Having both degrees come in handy, especially when I have a client with a food allergy.
Owning your own business can be costly. My list of expenses for this year seemed to be more than normal because I started to pay for advertising (print and media) and I needed things like a 3rd fridge (haha!). You also have to keep track of all your income through programs like Quickbooks (which is also an expense) as well as your mileage. So my taxes are always much more challenging – but that’s why it pays to have a good accountant.
My first chef job out of culinary school was as a vegan/vegetarian chef and I also taught Blue Zones cooking classes when I worked as a grocery store chef and dietitian, so I think those years of developing plant-based meals has stuck with me. When writing recipes, I first think about what’s in season and go from there. It also helps to stay on top of food trends through food magazines and other food blogs (like the Kitchn and Food52). For example, foods like cauliflower rice and alternative flours (like coconut flour) were not even a thing I saw at the grocery store when I first graduated from culinary school, but now you see them everywhere so it’s fun to come up with new ways to use new foods.
I like the fact that more women have now stepped into the chef role. It’s a tough business, but I love proving to people that I can do it. I enjoy showcasing my talent to our community and sharing my passion for food whether it be through a special event, blog post, cooking class or cooking demo. I feel that people can tell that I truly do enjoy what I’m doing.
I really hope we can stop using so many food additives and stick to good, wholesome food. I’m a huge advocate of choosing foods where I can read the label and know exactly what I’m eating. I also would like to see more kids learning about how food is grown and trying different types of produce. I taught garden programs at my previous job and it was wonderful seeing kids get excited to try new things.
My go-to book for inspiration is The Flavor Bible. I bought that book when I was in school and it’s so useful when you’re trying to figure out what foods work well together (for example, grapefruit and avocado).
Thank you so much Jen! To follow her blog, hire her for a dinner and learn more about Chef Jen visit her website at https://chefjen.com/ you can also find her on instagram @cookingiscaring.