I wish someone would have told me that cheese and wine are a bad mix. I am a lover of cheese and wine. It has been my guilty pleasure for years. Perhaps if someone would have told me they don’t pair well together I would have avoided it and not been so obsessed. This probably wouldn’t have happened, but it’s just my wishful thinking.
As part of our series about the lessons from Inspirational Black Chefs & Restaurateurs I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Chef Crystal Blanchette. She is an expert in her field and a single working mother of two, has proven that healthy eating can be achieved at all ages.
Chef Crystal heads numerous projects that promote healthy eating such as, Chef Crystalz World, Chefs Guide to Divorce, #CineSoul Dine, and is a partner at the culinary urban development project called Inner City Kitchen, set to open in South Los Angeles.
Chef Crystal believes we have lost touch with our communities and families by making eating a part of our daily checklist as opposed to a priority. It has become her mission to lead others in her philosophy that, “Food is not only a necessity for survival but a way to connect with one’s body. Allow food to nurture your body by making it a priority and not a chore.”
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?
Ihave known all my life that I wanted to be a chef. However, my mom will tell you that I became a chef because as a child I really disliked her food. The truth is, the first cookbook I got, “how to make lemon pudding,” is what inspired me to cook and collect more cookbooks. I soon recreated whatever recipes I could and gave the food away to the neighborhood kids. That was when I knew I could create happiness through food.
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 focus specifically on grass fed, organic, farm to table type food. Although most of my private clients are vegan, I do my best to create wholesome meals to suit their personal needs. I would have never considered myself a vegan/vegetarian chef, but it was my time working with Prince that shifted me into that space. I quickly went from working with heavy meat-eating athletes to a rockstar who wouldn’t even allow “fake meat” into his home. I remember one of the first times I worked for Prince I made him something with Tempeh bacon. Prince asked me what it was, and I shared it was “fake bacon.” He looked me straight in my eyes and said, “take it outside and put it in the trash.” I was mortified but guess what…I never did that again.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Extraordinary people don’t have excuses; they shift and do whatever it takes to deliver the results to achieve their vision.” This quote is relevant in my life because I always knew that becoming a chef was my calling. Although I have had setbacks and left the industry once, I worked hard and never made my life someone else’s responsibility. I learned to take support when it was given and ALWAYS pay it forward, knowing that the vision is to create spaces for all humanity to have access to healthy food and water.
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?
One of the funniest stories that has ever happened to me was when I was on a cooking show on the food network. It was awful and I was awful. Out of the four chefs who were also competing on the show, I was the second to be kicked off and it was because my meat came out grey. Chef tip 101 from that experience is “never cook your food in a cold pan.” Hello! Crystal, heat the pan up first! Lesson Learned and needless to say I’ve never forgotten to heat up my pan again.
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?
When I first became a chef one of the hardest things for me was trusting my skills. Like any other job where you’re putting out a product, it’s important to you that people will enjoy it. I had many failures with food that I have served and still sometimes swing and miss. However, it was those moments where I had to shake it off and shift my thoughts knowing it would all be okay.
In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?
I make food that I would want to eat for my clients. I know in my field with healthy cuisine it can get tricky, but in my experience the key is to always create from the heart.
Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?
Eggs. The perfect meal for me is eggs.. I love them scrambled on toast with an avocado.. I mean, if you make just about anything with a fried egg on top, my tummy is pleased.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?
I am working on a project here in Los Angeles. My business partners and I are looking to create healthy food options within the inner city and rural areas in the United States starting with South Los Angeles. It will shift the way we eat and will be cost effective for the community.
What advice would you give to other chefs or restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?
Take a vacation even if it’s something local! Self-care is so important and it’s something that must be practiced like everything else. If you do not take time for yourself, you cannot be fully present for others.
Do you have any advice for “up and coming” young chefs who are in need of guidance to become successful in the culinary world?
Work in a restaurant! Restaurant experience is the basic foundation that we need as chefs. It’s unlike any other and teaches you discipline, time management, knife skills, and kitchen fundamentals. Don’t skip it!
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?
While my business has taken a hit from COVID-19, I am grateful because I always have a few eggs in other baskets. My advice would be to make sure you have steady income, even if it’s at a local restaurant, and use this time to advance your education. You can take an online course in business, nutrition, baking, whatever your heart desires. Remember to keep that mind balanced and working.
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
- I wish someone would have told me to not sweat the small stuff. I took everything personally in the beginning of my career and instead of looking at it as feedback, I took it to heart. I remember when I was cooking for a director and his family and he just didn’t eat my food…ever. I was so upset because I thought it was me, but it turned out he just didn’t eat much. I would go home crying because I was so nervous I was going to be fired every day, but it all worked out.
- I wish someone would have told me that baking would one day be fun. I wasn’t a fan of baking when I first started my career. It was always such a slow process for me, and I enjoyed the fast pace of cooking on the line in the restaurant kitchen. However, as I got older and had kids, it has really become part of my daily life. I get to bake cakes, cookies, pies, and share my grandmother’s recipes with my kids.
- I wish someone would have told me to experience cooking in other countries sooner. Although I traveled for work as a chef, I didn’t experience working side by side with other chefs in other countries until later in my career. I believe that experience is gold and a beautiful way to see the world through food.
- I wish someone would have told me to try everything three times. This was something else I didn’t do until I was much further in my career. I had a love hate relationship with liver as a child because my mother would tell us it was steak, and well, it wasn’t. I didn’t like it as a child and so when I was a young chef I would always pass on it. As I became more mature I began trying liver everywhere I went and although it is still not my favorite, I have enjoyed it in wonderful dishes by allowing myself to be open to trying it.
- I wish someone would have told me that cheese and wine are a bad mix. I am a lover of cheese and wine. It has been my guilty pleasure for years. Perhaps if someone would have told me they don’t pair well together I would have avoided it and not been so obsessed. This probably wouldn’t have happened, but it’s just my wishful thinking.
What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?
I’m not a restaurant owner but when people are at my house or I am catering an event, I encourage people to try something I’ve made that they have never tried before. It’s important to expand your palate and live a little.
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.
If I could bring the most amount of good to the most people, it would be to make all food healthy and fun. My vision is to create spaces where everyone has access to healthy food and water. I am my brother’s keeper and I believe I should use my influence to create a better world through food.
How can our readers further follow you online?
You can find me on @chefcrystalzguide on instagram for fun recipes and tips!
Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!