It’s a very male dominated industry — so if you’re a woman boss hog your way in. During my signature Pop Up events, people sometimes confuse me with being the help instead of the main chef just because I’m a woman. So, I make it a point to show up and show out to show the power women have to be a leader and driver of a movement.
Don’t be intimidated by those who have more experience than you. When you have a unique skill set and personality along with an audience, that is the value behind the experience you bring.
As part of our series about the lessons from Inspirational Black Chefs & Restaurateurs, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sara Lovestyle.
Sara Lovestyle is a chic food entrepreneur and celebrity chef. She believes that “magical moments are shared at the intersection of conversation and culture is created when we fill the open seat at the table to come together and break bread.”
Thank you so much for doing this with us Sara! Our readers would love to ‘get to know’ you a bit. 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 don’t, I tend to cook what feels good to my soul. I first began cooking Ethiopian food. I remember cooking injera with my Mom when I was 7 years old (injera is a flat crepe/pancake type, but more like a sour dough flatbread). I also learned how to cook Ethiopian bread with my Mom when I was just 8.
In my family we would do a buna ceremony, which revolved around coffee, bread, food and great conversation. You plan it to make your guests feel good and special by preparing an amazing selection of a diverse variety of meals, breads and coffee. You don’t cook just one meal, it’s a full spread of so many varieties of meals including veggie dishes, cheeses, chicken, goat, lamb, with Ethiopian sauces.
These dishes take hours to make, it’s a long and slow process where you start in the morning and it’s ready in the evening. It’s like a Thanksgiving, but it’s done at least once a week — like when a guest is in town or after church. That wonderful ceremony is where I learned about life, family and togetherness. No one is on their phone or watching TV during the ceremony. It’s the ultimate love of family — a warm loving gathering.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Legacy is not leaving something for people, it’s leaving something in people.”
People may not remember your name but they remember how you make them feel. If you felt more empowered, knowledgeable, loved and cared for — even in a 5-minute conversation with me, then I feel like I did what I was supposed to. I strive to have every encounter with a person memorable.
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?
During a special fine dining Pop Up Dinner during the 2020 Super Bowl weekend in Miami, I was told the day of — that the event was now going to start a few hours earlier than originally scheduled, and they were expecting twice as many people for dinner. And not just anybody, the event was for top celebrities and who’s who within the NFL, sports and entertainment industry.
Because I was cooking off site, I did not have my normal team cooking with me. So due to the time constraints, I had my team of “non-cooks” cooking in the kitchen to pull it off. This included my social media manager that was making the waffles, my fashion stylist was stirring the pot with the sauce for the chicken Alfredo, and I was cooking catfish and chicken with rollers in my hair — and even my security was helping me make the catfish cakes. It was a big ole mess…but it worked, and we pulled it off. Lesson learned: YOU NEED A TEAM AND DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP…DELEGATE! I sure enough learned this important lesson that weekend.
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?
Before I would always say “In another life I would be a chef.” I would watch the Food Network all day and say, “I wish I could cook like that.” When I was 23 years old, I had a heart attack six days after having my first child. It hit me hard that life is short and you must live your dreams or pursue them to the fullest. I HAD TO TRY! I OWED IT TO MYSELF AND MY CHILDREN. One of my biggest fears is to be on my death bed and say, “I wish I had done XYZ.” That is literally my biggest fear in life because at that point there will literally be nothing I can do about it. For my kids’ sake, who I am responsible for setting the best example for, I had to try and go for what was on my heart.
I didn’t go to culinary school and I don’t know the technical terms to everything but most everything! But I know food and how to make people happy, how to feed their souls, and give them an experience while enjoying my food. And that is more than enough for me.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
If you think about the most memorable thing you’ve ever done in your life, there’s typically an experience around. A great steak at a 5-star restaurant on Valentine’s Day, a taco from a hole in the wall on the outskirts of town, or a fine dining platter in the middle of a mansion with a swimming pool in it (my Pop Up Dinner in Atlanta!) — then you have set the stage for epicness.
I put that entire magical energy into the cooking process. Nothing that I make is rushed and it’s all in the food preparation. That is my attention to detail; How are all the veggies chopped? How do I wash the jerk chicken with lemon or collard greens? The secret is preparing your food to PERFECTION…before cooking it. So, by the time I put the meal in front of you — you can tell I put every fiber of my being into that dish!
If I’m eating something and start dancing or say “Ummmm Ummmm Ummm” then I know it’s good.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
The perfect meal for me is nostalgic — and ties into a story and experience. Yesterday, I made an eggplant Middle Eastern dish that my Mom used to make for me when I was almost too young to even remember, like 3 years old. I remember back in the 8th grade — one day I asked my Mom to make it for me. She looked at me with a confused look — and it made my her cry. This was the dish that she used to make for me in the Sudan refugee camp where I was born, before we came to America when I was 3 years old. She learned it from a Middle Eastern family that she used to work for. So, when I asked her to make it for me — we had been in the U.S. for at least 10 years. Fast forward to now — when I saw eggplant in the produce aisle the other day, I remembered this story and knew this is what I wanted to cook for my family.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I’ll be speaking on several virtual panels, including one for the Boss Women Media Tour this month. I’ll be creating new cookbooks for this year and a fitness workout challenge, that will all be launched from my website www.saralovestyle.com and on Instagram @SaraLovestyle.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout? Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
Burnout happens for me when I don’t plan and have a process in place, or I go outside of my process. You must have “brakes”that force you to mentally and physically stop, take a break, and come back to your work. Manage your process through “time management.” Set your goals, tasks, to-do’s, and build in space to take breaks, relax, spend time with family and enjoy life.
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 has taught us to embrace the PIVOT. I went from selling all my cookbooks to making them available for free during the first couple months of the quarantine, because that was most valuable for my tribe. I also began doing more virtual ways to connect. I may not be able to connect as a chef in person, but I can connect online in meaningful ways and still feed you some time of food for the soul. I launched an IGTV motivational and coaching series entitled “Lovestyle & Convos” where I connect weekly to share motivational gems and interview guests who are experts in fields ranging from cooking, marketing and activism to name a few. I also offer cooking classes and have teamed with other chefs to bring good content to viewers.
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? Please share a story or an example for each.
1. It’s a very male dominated industry — so if you’re a woman boss hog your way in. During my signature Pop Up events, people sometimes confuse me with being the help instead of the main chef just because I’m a woman. So, I make it a point to show up and show out to show the power women have to be a leader and driver of a movement.
2. Don’t be intimidated by those who have more experience than you. When you have a unique skill set and personality along with an audience, that is the value behind the experience you bring.
3. These hours are LONG! Most of my Pop-Up dining events require 18–20 hours…A DAY! I thrive off the adrenaline but I crash when they are over. However, to fulfill a dream and experience for others is so worth it.
4. You can’t make everybody happy. I could cook the best meal of my life, throwdown and put my foot in it, and there’s still bound to be one person that doesn’t enjoy it as much as everybody else — and you have to be ok with it.
5. MOM GUILT. You’re going to feel guilty — and that’s ok. The long hours you spend away from your family and children will eat at you, but it’s ok because you’re also showing your family hustle and work ethic so they too can strive for excellence. Regardless of what dream you pursue when you’re a Mom, Mom Guilt will probably be there so you might as well do what you love and make it worth it.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
The Cajun chicken alfredo and Cajun chicken and waffles. You’ll never have anything like it in your life! I promise you this!
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.
I would allow for everyone to identify with their LOVESTYLE…which is the term I coined for your passionate way of celebrating your sole reason for being alive. Regardless of where you are in life right now — you should always have the opportunity to overcome your circumstances, pull yourself up, and rise to live your best life the way you want!
Sometimes from your greatest pain comes your greatest triumph…and that is part of the journey to discovering what most taps into your calling and “Why.”.
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!
Follow in instagram @saralovestyle