Community//

Chef Debra VanTrece: Why Cooking Can Be An Expression Of Love

Find balance, the Culinary business is a very difficult business. You can become consumed in your pursuit to thrive. It is time with my family that is most important to me. You have to make time to re-center, whatever that is for you. I enjoy lunches with my daughter, jazz concerts with my wife and […]

The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Community stories are not commissioned by our editorial team, and though they are reviewed for adherence to our guidelines, they are submitted in their final form to our open platform. Learn more or join us as a community member!

Find balance, the Culinary business is a very difficult business. You can become consumed in your pursuit to thrive. It is time with my family that is most important to me. You have to make time to re-center, whatever that is for you. I enjoy lunches with my daughter, jazz concerts with my wife and my self-time. These are the moments that help me to re-group.


I had the pleasure to interview Chef Debra VanTrece Owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours in Atlanta, GA. Debra has been named one of Zagat’s Most Badass Female Chefs, has appeared on the Food Network, and was the official caterer of the Centennial Olympics in Atlanta.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restauranteur or chef?

My inspiration came from a desire to do something that I was passionate about and that allowed me to have a little more control over my destiny. Cooking for me provides a blueprint of my life and life experiences. It allows me to relive my past and often gives me a look into all the untapped things that lie ahead in my future. Prior to becoming a chef, I spent many years in corporate as a flight attendant, with someone else telling me what I could and could not do and when I had to do it. I decided that although, I loved the travel, I also felt that I was wasting away and needed a career more conducive to my creativity. Becoming a Chef and doing it my way was the best path for me.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

Cooking for me is an expression of love. I grew up watching my Mother and aunts come together to prepare family meals . I cook from my heritage and life experiences, it is not so much a specific type of food, but any food that taps into the soul of a culture, provokes memories or tells a story. Food is not just nourishment that is needed to fuel the body; it is a commonality that brings people together. Some years ago, I had the opportunity to cook for many dignitaries from different countries during the Olympics. The tables were by far fancier than the tables of my youth, but the results were the same. Conversation, laughter and good will at the table always helps to breakdown the barriers of our differences.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a chef or restauranteur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

This is a hard question. I don’t know that I have a specific incident, but what I can say is that my team in my kitchen at the restaurant, provide a daily dose of fodder for amusement, teamwork and creativity.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

I was in it alone, trying to figure out the business aspect of opening the restaurant. Although, I had family support, I did not have a mentor within the business. I’ve had to navigate through this male dominated business that many times wants to place female chefs in a box. I’ve never been one to run away from a challenge, so I continued to press through, networked within the culinary community and persisted towards my dreams. I’m still traveling on this journey and although I may find it easier, it does not mean I do not still face barriers that I continue to work through. My faith is stronger than my fear and it keeps me going.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

Starting with great ingredients and lots of flavor, I put all of me in every dish I create. I taste and taste to make sure the flavors complement each other and create that WOW factor I want for my guests to experience. In cooking, you have to genuinely care about what you are doing because when you do it comes through the dish.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

I love Pasta, it is my go to dish for myself after a hard day.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

I have been blessed with a creative talent and I hold this blessing in high regard and I don’t take it for granted. Each morning I have my time of quiet where I meditate and prepare for my day. These are times that I think about my Mother and her impact on my life. My daughter also, inspires me, I want to always be a Mother that she is proud of.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

I am working on my first cookbook and that is something that is challenging and very exciting. I hope to to share really good recipes that people will can prepare and enjoy, but I also want my cookbook to provide them with an inside to my personality and creativity.

I am also joining a lineup of incredible chefs at an exciting pop up experience called Whirled Peas, hosted by Sabra. I love hummus and I love the message behind this pop up in NYC’s West Village, created on the premise that food is a universal language and we can share what makes us unique and open ourselves up to others through food. Many people think of hummus as a dip, and it is great as a dip, but Sabra wanted to see what happens when you take the soul food of the Mediterranean and blend it with southern soul food. My menu at Whirled Peas drops mid-October (17th) and I can’t wait to share the dishes with guests!

What advice would you give to other chefs or restauranteurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

Find balance, the Culinary business is a very difficult business. You can become consumed in your pursuit to thrive. It is time with my family that is most important to me. You have to make time to re-center, whatever that is for you. I enjoy lunches with my daughter, jazz concerts with my wife and my self-time. These are the moments that help me to re-group.

Thank you for all that. Now we are ready for the main question of the interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restauranteur or Chef” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. Networking is everything: I have been in this business for 20+ years and developing a network of like minded individuals is important. There are two other culinary women in Atlanta that are beast in the game and I am so glad to have met them. We have become a trio of sorts called The Cast Iron Chronicles and have collaborated on several events, inspired many women and continue to support each other.
  2. Join organizations that can support your journey: My membership with James Beard Foundation, Le’Dames Escoffier are just two organizations that provide Chefs with opportunities to learn new initiatives and stay abreast of changes in the culinary field.
  3. Trust yourself and be prepared to make mistakes: I look back on my early days and laugh at some of the mistakes I made. I’m wiser now and through trial and error I’ve learned that my mistakes don’t define me. I use them as a learning experience and carry on.
  4. Have fun. I don’t take myself too seriously. I find everyday to laugh in my kitchen, and do my best to keep a positive, upbeat environment. I love great music while I cook and every now and then I take a moment to dance in the kitchen while everyone is watching me.
  5. Balance, I still need someone to remind me of this one. However, when I am centered I do seek to find balance in my life through people that are outside of the culinary world.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

My menu changes, but two staples are the Hoisin Oxtails and our Southern Marinated Fried Chicken dinner served with our Jalapeno Braised Collard Green Rolls.

You are a person of influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would provide farming land accessibility to everyone, especially those in inner cities so that people had access to food. It is unconscionable that there are people that suffer from food insecurities. As a part of my food utopia people would be provided with opportunities to grow what they need and want, and then my organization would provide food preparation classes that are delicious and simple to prepare.

Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

You might also like...

Community//

“Dreams do come true if you put in the work”, with Chef Rosalind “Roz” Tucker

by Ben Ari
Community//

Tom Catherall: “Don’t take yourself too seriously”

by Chef Vicky Colas
Community//

Chef Jerzy Gonzalez: “Being a Female Chef”

by Ben Ari

Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

Thrive Global
People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

- MARCUS AURELIUS

We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.