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“Cook with love” with Chef Danni

I always just try to cook with love. It never fails me. This has been my key to success so far and whatever I cook my clients typically love. I also try to pick my clients brain to see what their favorite dishes are, and I go and try to remake them with my own […]

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I always just try to cook with love. It never fails me. This has been my key to success so far and whatever I cook my clients typically love. I also try to pick my clients brain to see what their favorite dishes are, and I go and try to remake them with my own flair.

As part of our series about the lessons from Inspirational BIPOC Chefs & Restaurateurs, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Thee Chef Danni. She is currently a private chef based in Los Angeles and Houston, TX specializing in classical American dishes, Cajun/Creole cuisine, Italian, and cultivating strict dietary guidelines for peak athletic performance, health restrictions and/or lifestyle changes. Danni gained most of her culinary knowledge from her Deep South upbringing and from her studies at the Art Institute of California- North Hollywood. Through her years of experience, she has become highly skilled in the art of food preparation which has led her to work for some of her most notable clients ranging from Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers), Trevor Ariza (Portland Trailblazers), Jarrell Martin (Memphis Grizzlies), Jarran Reed (Seattle Seahawks) to rappers such as Rich the Kid, Blac Youngsta, and Yo Gotti.

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 for becoming a chef came from my grandmother. Growing up down south to avoid going outside to play with my other cousins because it was so hot in Alabama, I stayed inside with my grandma mostly watching her cook. I decided to take cooking more seriously after college after doing my research on the private chef industry and the endless opportunities that this career could and would present.

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?

I typically stick to my southern roots and cook upscale comfort food. I just grew up watching my grandmother cook so much and people loved her food, like her house was always filled with people eating on Sundays after church or during the week. So southern comfort food is something that’s just in my heart and it helps me keep my memories of my grandmother alive. I do dabble into other countries cuisines because I love Italian and Asian dishes, so I sometimes fuse some of those flavor profiles into my dishes. I started taking cooking more seriously in college though after the harsh reality sat in that my mom was not going to be cooking those home cooked meals I often craved. So, my house turned into the hangout spot for all my friends because I was always cooking. College is beyond stressful, so cooking was my escape and I fell in love with it and the peace it brought me.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Faith without works is dead.” That quote always lives rent free in my head. You can imagine anything in your mind and see the vision clear as day; but until you put the work into it; It’ll never happen. I constantly push myself with this quote especially when it feels like I’m slacking or procrastinating.

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?

The funniest moment in my career had to be walking into a house call and not knowing the client was going to be Yo Gotti. I almost had a stroke because I was a huge fan. I had to literally pull myself together and focus on cooking and not being excited. That moment definitely taught me how to handle the other big moments in my career where I would go on to meet countless other celebrities without fan-girling out. Not to mention on this day the stove at his house was not working so I literally had to cook everything on the outdoor grill and oven. But everything turned out great.

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?

The hardest part about starting this journey was just not giving up. Telling myself constantly that this opportunity would pay off and that my time was coming. When I first started my culinary journey, I was living in LA, and of course everyone knows LA is super expensive. I was working at restaurants as a server full time and catering different events on my off days until my name started to get around. Then finally I gained my first celebrity client and it took off from there.

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

I always just try to cook with love. It never fails me. This has been my key to success so far and whatever I cook my clients typically love. I also try to pick my clients brain to see what their favorite dishes are, and I go and try to remake them with my own flair.

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

The perfect meal for me on a fancy day is a juicy med well ribeye steak with loaded white truffle potatoes and some type of garden salad with the best ranch dressing in the world. I’m simple but I love a good ribeye steak. On my chill days, I’m literally addicted to buffalo wings. If I could eat wings every day I would. Lol. My favorite wing sauces are lemon pepper, honey mustard, or Thai chili. Don’t forget ALL FLATS.

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

I’m currently working on releasing my first cookbook called “Expensive Taste”. This book is an ode to some of my celebrity clients and some of their favorite dishes. I plan on releasing merch and seasoning blends shortly after. This will be a huge impact for so many people. My hopes with this cookbook are to hopefully bring back the art of cooking and family time. The world is moving so fast now, and nobody has time for the simple things anymore like family home cooked meals. I feel like we need that quality time, especially during these unprecedented times. No better where to bond than through cooking.

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

In order to thrive and not burnout in this industry you have to have a strong self-care regiment. Always checkout to have personal days to get your body and mental health together. Its ok to take a week off. Its ok to not take a booking because you’re drained. CHECK OUT and GET REFRESHED.

Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?

Word of advice. STAY CONSISTENT. Don’t GIVE UP. Always perfect your craft. It is a must that no matter what you never stop cooking. Keep your eyes on the prize and keep your knife sharp.

COVID-19 has been a trying time for all of us. How are you growing your business during COVID-19? What advice do you have for any chefs who are trying to stay relevant during this time?

COVID-19 has been a blessing and a curse for most chefs because the demand for private chefs and catering has increased due to some of the restaurants closing or not offering dine in services. To stay relevant during this time, social media would’ve been your best bet. I constantly posted cooking tutorials and dropped recipes since people were always in the house during quarantine and just needed something fun or creative to do to pass the time.

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 Chef” and why?

I wish someone would have told me the following things:

  • Do not undercharge. Always charge your worth.
  • Get liability insurance.
  • Apply for an LLC; and keep your receipts for tax purposes.
  • Do not compare your success to others in the industry success.
  • Trust the process.

If somebody would have told me these 5 simple things starting out, it would’ve made my life so much easier. But I had to learn these things through trial and error.

You are a person of enormous 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.

It would be a movement that sparks people to feed the homeless all over the world. I want to call it the “Dime A Dozen” challenge and you would save your dimes from loose change to buy breakfast for a homeless person in your area or across the world.

How can our readers further follow you online?

Follow me on Instagram and Twitter at @TheeChefDanni .

Also check out my website for all updates and upcoming news www.theechefdanni.com

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

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