Chicago native and mother, Chef Tina Gray, is the owner of What’s on The Menu Catering. Her passion, love for food, and philanthropy are the foundations of her platform. Chef Tina has cooked for celebrities such as comedians Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish, basketball star Derrick Rose to name a few. Chef Tina brings comfort in every bite.
Tammy Gibson (TG): Chef Tina, why did you want to become a chef?
Chef Tina Gray: Honestly, it was faith. I went to school for broadcasting and journalism. I needed some extra money. I was making $10.00 an hour at the time. I said to myself, “What can I do to make extra money?” So, I started making plates. People would place an order on my Instagram page. I would take food orders to people’s jobs. I got a call from, at that time, comedian Lil’ Rel’s wife. She told me she had a dream that God told her to tell me to start a catering company. To me, that did not make sense. From there, I moved to Los Angeles to chase my dream. I started making food for actresses Meagan Good and Sanaa Lathan.
That is where it all started. I went to culinary school for a little while but had to drop out because it was too expensive. I did not think being a chef would be something I would be doing. It was definitely faith.
TG: Is there a chef you admire, and why?
Chef Tina Gray: I look at the women in my family. It started with my grandmother. My sister has the talent to taste things and then go home and make it. My mom is a great cook. Those are the people I looked up to as a chef growing up.
TG: What is the greatest thing about being a chef.
Chef Tina Gray: Food and servicing people is a love language. Offering something to people and seeing their reaction after they eat my food makes my soul happy. It is not about the money and the people I work for; it is the reaction I get afterward that keeps me going daily. Aside from the money, being paid for the service, and meeting new people, the reaction from eating my food makes it worthwhile.
TG: What is the story behind Ruby’s Hot Sauce?
Chef Tina Gray: Ruby was my grandmother. When the pandemic happened, I had to figure out what was going to be my next step.
I did a YouTube show, and I invited a couple of friends to come over as my first guest. One of the guests was Instagram comedian Reedo Brown. He wanted chicken tenders as his meal. When I made the chicken tenders, it needed something else on top of the chicken because it was bland. So, I put some sauce together and drizzled it on the chicken tenders. Reedo said, “Man, what is this sauce?” I told him; honestly, I just put something together. I tasted it, and it was good. I could probably sell this.
I was thinking of a name for the hot sauce and decided to name it after my grandmother. I bought 40 bottles and had my friend make labels. I got on Instagram and promoted the hot sauce, and it sold out. I did not think this was real. I thought it was a fluke. Two weeks later, I made 100 bottles, and the hot sauce sold in 30 minutes.
Each time I would drop the hot sauce, it was on a Saturday. Saturdays to me were equivalent to Jordan drops in Chicago. When the Jordan shoes use to drop in Chicago, everyone would be excited. I would drop my hot sauce to get the excitement to see how many people would buy it. The next time I did 150 bottles, and those sold out, and I did another 250 bottles, and those sold out as well. It started from just the mistake of me putting something together, and it turned out to be something bigger than I thought it was going to be.
TG: What do you consider to be your greatest personal achievement so far?
Chef Tina Gray: My greatest achievement was traveling to Africa. One of my friends from Chicago goes to Africa to help take care of children in an orphanage. When he told me about his trips to Africa, I asked him if he ever thought about taking a chef to Africa and I would be interested in going. My friend told me he had a chef but never showed up. I told him I would go, and he gave me the dates to go to Africa.
I got on my Instagram page to raise money and donations of shoes and clothes for the kids. My followers donated money and assisted me with buying food to cook when I got to Africa. I had to cook with no pots and pans. I am cooking outside with no lights and running water. I am just trying to make it happen for the children in the orphanage. But by the grace of God, I was able to do it.
On my second trip to Africa, I took a few people from Chicago, a videographer, a friend that cuts hair, and an assistant to help me cook. I was able to do a lot more on my second trip to Africa. I raised enough money to help build huts, so when I am not there, they can sell food from the side of their house and keep money coming in. That was one of my greatest personal achievements. I plan to go back to Africa because I want to open a café to keep feeding the people in Uganda.
TG: What advice would you give to chefs starting in the culinary field, especially young people.
Chef Tina Gray: Take your craft seriously. I did not hone into my craft until I moved to Los Angeles. That is when I started believing in myself, and doors began to open for me. I put 100% into being a chef. My advice is if you give it your all, whatever you put out, will come back to you.
TG: What’s next for you in your career?
Chef Tina Gray: I would like Ruby’s Hot Sauce to continue to grow. My overall goal is to open a distribution center on the southside of Chicago to produce the hot sauce. I have goals of making seasoning, pots, and pans. I want everything to be made from the southside of Chicago to create more jobs. In the distribution center, I want to host cooking and financial awareness classes for parents and children. My goal is to move back to Chicago to be more involved and give back to the community. I know I must take it one step at a time to allow God to lead my steps.
For more information about Chef Tina Gray’s What’s on The Menu Catering, go to https://www.wotmcaters.com/ and Instagram at @whatsonthemenu_ @tinagray24.
Tammy Gibson is a travel historian and writer. Find her at Facebook, Instagram @SankofaTravelher, and Twitter @SankofaTravelHr