Self-Taught Chef Turns Passion into Profit with A Unique Twist
When it comes to monetizing your passion there are many paths to success. For Omar Walters, it was simply eating good food as a child and cooking meals for his friends as an adult. With no formal culinary training Walters opened Omar’s Kitchen, a unique dining experience situated in a loft located in Tribeca, one of New York’s most desirable areas to live, eat and shop.
“A turning point for me was when a friend asked me to cater a barbecue for his brother. I was nervous because I never cooked for a crowd of people I didn’t know, only for friends and family. I took him up on his offer and his brother loved it. He hired me immediately as his personal chef and became my first client. These experiences helped me transition from my corporate job as a System and Data analyst to working as a Chef. During that time I was also promoting parties, so it also made my transition a lot smoother,” said Walters.
Chef Omar infuses flavors from the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and Europe to form his unique and customizable menu of items such as, “red stripe beer battered fried chicken and blue velvet waffles.” Black Enterprise caught up with Chef Omar to learn how “Omar’s Kitchen” became recognized as one of the hottest go to spots for an intimate dining experience.
Tell us a bit about your background. How did you get your started in the culinary industry?
I actually have no official culinary training. I come from a Jamaican background and everyone in my family can “cook up a storm.” When I was younger I always had a good home cooked meal. My mother used to cater and sometimes I would help her. These experiences were the tools that helped me later on in my career.
During my early adult years, I cooked meals to get my friends together and have house parties etc. Since dating in New York City is so expensive, I entertained my dates by cooking for them. Besides saving money, this gave us the opportunity to get to know each other over a meal; they wanted me to prepare.
Why did you decide to launch a private dining experience vs. opening a restaurant?
I actually launched the private dining experience by accident. A client of mine wanted to throw a surprise private dinner for a client so they asked me to put together an event.
I had no idea where to start but I found a venue. I posted pictures of the event on social media just to showcase the food, and the emails were out of control with people requesting private dining experiences.
At first, I turned people down for private dining because I was only focused on catering, but the demand became too high for that service. Admittedly, in the beginning I didn’t know how to set prices for my services, but we eventually got the formula right.
I want to explore all aspects of the culinary world before I open my own restaurant– the private dining experience allows me to do that. We don’t have to deal with the everyday headaches of running a restaurant that is open daily. We also get to have intimate an experience with our clients.
What do you love most about your career?
I enjoy meeting with clients and guests and getting feedback whether good or bad. To see each event start from a simple idea, most likely received through email, to the look on their faces when the event comes to light is rewarding and priceless.
I also love that I am working with my friends. It’s like we’re just hanging out and entertaining guests. I also love the freedom it gives me. We are usually busy on the weekends so for the most part during the week we have time to re group and go on a restaurant tour to come up with new ideas. And we do test runs on items we customized for a client to make sure they get the best value for their money.
Is there any one person that inspired you to go into cooking?
My first client said to me, “You can get paid to do this.” I was so confused because I really didn’t see people paying me to cook. There are several people that inspire me to take things to the next level. They always seem to wow me to the point where I say to myself, man let me get in this kitchen and go work on a masterpiece.
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