Passion typically pushes us to excel at what we love and there are those who turn their passion into art or career.
Although education is vital to success, not having a formal education doesn’t take away from being great at what you do and shouldn’t hinder your chances of becoming successful. Whatever leads you to what makes you happy should be pursued with the type of energy needed to make it happen. Celebrity chef Jerome Brown has taken a path that has led him to be recognized for his passion and he understands the unprecedented road he took has cemented his success.
He laid down his utensils long enough to cook up this interview with Black Enterprise.
Why did you choose a career in the culinary arts and how did you pursue it when you knew it was what you wanted to do?
Cooking runs in my blood. My mother was a dietitian, my father was a chef. Every man in my family can cook. Not that the woman in the family can’t. However, we as men really have the knack for it and won’t hesitate to go into the kitchen and throw down at any given moment. I guess it’s safe to say that cooking chose me rather than me choosing cooking. When I was 19-years-old, I joined the US Army. I chose the job of being a cook because it was something I knew I was good at. (At least I thought I was) Boy did I learn a lesson. Cooking in the Army is one of the toughest jobs to ever have. You’re always the first in and the last out. Ultimately, I left the military with a culinary arts degree. Best decision I ever made in my life.
There’s no question that talent is what drives someone like you in your craft, but how do you handle the demands of the business aspects of the industry?
Learning the business is the most important part of what I had to do to be as successful as I have been. It’s a lot like the music industry. Part of learning your craft is learning how to approach the very thing that will make or break your career. I tell young chefs all the time to learn the business. I handle the demands by surrounding myself with those who have my best interests in mind. I plan my schedule along with my team in order to maximize my day to the fullest. I also plan for a mental break so that I can keep things in perspective.
The Recipe for Success
What is the thought process when creating a menu for a specific event and/or a restaurant?
When planning for a specific event, I take into consideration the type of event, the time of year, the region where the event is taking place. Doing so will allow me to offer a variety of things the guest will appreciate. I also like to consider local products that produce a certain taste profile. The goal is to offer an experience to the guest and give something that’s a total but pleasant surprise.
How has your path led you to become a celebrity chef? What difficulties did you face, if any and what would you do differently, if given the chance to do something again?
In hindsight, I don’t know that I would do anything any different from what I’ve already done. My mistakes were lessons that I was able to capitalize on. While I was Shaquille O’Neal‘s personal chef, he gave me some advice. He told me to develop a short memory, learn from anything that goes wrong, quickly pick up the pieces and move on. Becoming a celebrity chef was something that I didn’t set out to do. In fact, I let other people call me that title. I just live up to the things that have made me successful. I live from the premise that ‘Great service is long remembered after a good meal.’ For me, that’s the key to my success. Having said that, I view any challenge that I may have faced as a front-row seat to life’s business class. I use to be embarrassed that I didn’t go to culinary school. One day a light bulb came on and I realized that the fact that I didn’t go is what makes my journey just that more special. For that, I give God all the credit.
How does your mindset change when it comes to your work when dealing with the ‘average’ person and coordinating with a ‘celebrity’ client?
My mindset doesn’t change. For me, when I’m dealing with the so-called ‘average person’, my goal is to raise their expectations. It’s already going to be an experience for them, however, my intention is to blow their minds. When coordinating with a celebrity, my finished product will cause that person to be reminded of why they hired me in the first place and to ensure they hire me again. There’s a responsibility with the gift of cooking. Especially when the title of celebrity chef proceeds me. I cannot operate at a lesser level.
You’ve appeared on numerous television shows over the years, how do you handle the pressure of being filmed while working and does your approach change when the cameras are rolling?
When I’m on television, I’m extra mindful of my breathing and the fact that I must keep talking. The worst thing one can do when on television is to have what I call a dead spot. Complete silence while the camera is rolling. The goal of cooking on television is to educate and entertain. I call it ‘edutainment’. I prepare by reading up on everything I’m going to cook. Every ingredient has a story. I love to give little known facts about ingredients that will oftentimes send people straight to Google. I think Google should give me a check for that. LOL!!!
A dash of ambition
You have two upcoming gigs where you are the featured celebrity chef, for the Tom Joyner Cruise 2020 and the Sonoma International Film Festival, both taking place at the end of March. How do you prepare for such events and how is the preparation for you mentally as far as what you plan on presenting on the menu?
Any organization or entity that thinks enough of me to bring me in to prepare a meal is in for a pleasant surprise. Again, it’s all about the preparation beforehand. I think about what’s going to be different from what the crowd expects. The other thing is that I want to always give a signature dish. What this does is keep the audience in the posture of expectation. My approach is very different when the crowd is hype and the expectation is in the air. I live for those moments.
Based on your experience, what advice and suggestions would you give to anyone wanting to pursue their passion?
Pursuing any passion takes a level of focus that can only come from that individual. I tell parents all the time that when you see a gift in your child at an early age, you should cultivate that gift. For those who discover their gift as an adult, I encourage that individual to first, take the craft seriously, learn the business, network in the area you want to go into, and always remain teachable. The moment you think that you have arrived is the moment you’re going to fall. Stay humble. He exalts the humble, he reduces the proud.