Small Business Series: Three Black Chefs That Everyone Should Know

When it comes to food, people often think of it as the not so talked about, fairly unknown, sixth love language. It has the power to bring people together, foster conversations, settle the most trivial of disputes, calm the spirit, and just show how much you care. Food nourishes the soul, is a part of our culture, shapes some of our identities, and is often the framework for how we communicate with one another.  as important as food is in our lives, it is the ones who prepare it that are the real masterminds behind the feelings that some of our favorite meals bring.

For these three chefs, they take great pride and delight in our happiness whenever we taste their dishes, and go the extra mile to ensure that we keep coming back for more. The first began his journey after missing the Southern-Creole flavors of his parent’s kitchen, and now offers a taste of Louisiana in each bite. Next is someone who inherited the cooking gene from his mother, and through the power of a pandemic and social media, has gone from preparing meals solely for the boardroom to people’s living rooms. And lastly, after initially proving that alcohol and sweets really can be a match made in heaven, this baker created a space for people to connect and create a community over her baked goods.

Allen Rochelle, Chef Allen

What is Chef Allen’s Story?

I started cooking out of necessity. I was in college, away from home, and missed my parents’ cooking, so I would call and ask them how to make certain things. From there, it turned into a thing where my friends thought that I could cook very well. After moving to Chicago, I tried and enjoyed a lot of different cuisines, but felt that the niche of Southern-Creole cuisine was missing, so I decided to buy a restaurant. In doing so, I provided the recipes that I came up with over the years, as the menu. It wasn’t until one day, where I had chefs call off, that I had to cook on the line. From that day forward, I became an actual chef and not just the owner. The passion and my overall skillset continued to build from a presentation and professional perspective with the flavors and the food of Louisiana.

What’s been your transition or journey since becoming a chef?

Because my restaurant wasn’t in the best area, I ended up closing it down and relocating to Houston. When I returned to Chicago, there were options for me to get another store-front, but ultimately I decided to just focus on catering and pop-up brunches, along with meal services. That allows the overhead to stay down in a market where it can be high. With my clients, I’m able to provide the exact inventory that I need instead of getting a menu and having to stock up on everything. With those few changes, it continues to be profitable and enables me to work at my leisure and still travel the world.

In addition to meal prep and pop-up brunches, are there any other events that you do? And what are the different types of events that you do?

Last year, I did over eight different pop-up brunch events. I put together a Southern-Creole style menu and held them at various venues throughout the city. I went into their kitchens with my expertise, utilized their staff, and had DJs. In addition to the brunches, I’ve done crawfish or seafood boils for the last eight years at different locations. That allows me to have anywhere from ten to twelve events. I’ve done events for churches and parties as well. This past February, I did an event in Houston for 800 people, including their mayor.

What are some of your most popular dishes?

I was born and raised in Louisiana and lived in New Orleans for a little while, so I definitely have a knack for providing Southern-Creole food. My specialties can be anywhere from étouffée, gumbo, shrimp, and grits to spaghetti and jambalaya. I also specialize in making healthy food that’s portioned out to help you lose weight and making it tasty. My company, Windy City Meals, provides that service.

What has been the most significant impact on those who you have catered for?

I just love seeing people enjoy the good soul and quality of food. It brings me so much joy sometimes to have dishes that made me happy as a kid and then passing it on to my clients. Thus just giving them a piece of Louisiana. As someone from Louisiana, we cook from our hearts and enjoy seeing people eating our food. We’re going to provide you with an abundance of food, and I’ve never skimped out on portions.

What’s one thing that you want people to know about you?

I take pride in the work that I do and am always here to continue providing excellent service. Also, I’m just passionate about cooking. So if you want me to reach back and find someone passionate about cooking as well, I’m interested in continuing my mentoring program. I’ve trained different people and helped them find cooking jobs. The biggest joy is seeing other people being just as successful or passing me up because cooking can be there for anybody. It can be a safe haven or something that gives you a release, and I want more people to understand that it’s not as hard as it looks.

What have you learned since embarking on a career as a chef?

It is crucial to have a strong team, continuing to grow, traveling the world, visiting new cuisines, and implementing that back into what I have. It gives me a continuous appreciation for how food is a love language, and by providing that, I’m making a lot of people happy.

For more information on Chef Allen, please visit chefallenrochelle.com and follow him on Instagram @ajrochel.

Xavier Vance, Southern Rich

How long have you been a chef, and what led you to go down that path?

I’ve been a chef for five years. What led me down that path was my love for food and amazing cuisine. Growing up, my mom cooked every single day for me, and it just became embedded in my DNA. I come from a very large family, my mom is one of 14, and for every family reunion, she did all of the cooking. So I get my love and passion from her.

What are some of your signature dishes?

Some of my signature dishes are my southern fried chicken, Cajun shrimp, and grits, lamb chop Cajun pasta, seafood boils, and pot roast with mashed potatoes. I also do a lot of weekly meals, where I give people the option of purchasing individual meals. In addition to that, I provide full service, private catering packages for people who are still trying to enjoy their celebrations but want to keep it small in light of the pandemic.

How has your journey as a chef changed over time? Has it led to other ventures, or is it the opposite?

It’s the opposite. I was the senior class president in high school, and in charge of planning all of our festivities. From there, I fell in love with the events industry and started planning events right after graduation. I then went to the Illinois Institute of Arts for culinary school because I always had a dream of opening a restaurant. Being in class made me fall more in love with the craft of food and cuisine, so when I finished, I added catering to my event services. Since adding catering, I’ve had an increase in exposure.

What have you learned since embarking on a career as a chef?

One thing that has been a critical learning point for me is presentation. People eat with their eyes. So something can taste good, but if it’s not plated or presented the right way, the mind will automatically think that it’s not. When I post photos and videos of my food, and the presentation is on point, people always mention how good it looks. So I always want to make sure that the presentation matches the flavor.

When embarking on a career as a chef, did you imagine the growth and exposure that you currently have?

No, not at all. During this pandemic, I have seen a spark in exposure and sales. Before the pandemic, we did more corporate events. But now that all of the offices are closed, I’ve been doing more personal and private jobs. People have been reaching out non-stop, and all it is from Instagram. This has shown me that social media is more important than I thought of as an entrepreneur.

In addition to your upcoming restaurant, Southern Rich, what does the future hold for you?

I’m hoping to continue doing private dinners and just build a team of chefs to keep that service going. I would also like to take Southern Rich to other locations.

What’s one thing that you want people to know about the work that you do?

I’m really big on customer service. That comes before my food. I take pride in making sure that people have the best customer service. No one is perfect, so when we do make mistakes, it’s all about how we handle them and make people feel.

For more information on Xavier and Southern Rich, please visit southernrich.com and follow him on Instagram @Xavier.Vance.

Janell Richmond, Eméché Cakery & Café

What is Eméché’s story, and what led you to open a bakery?

Eméché means “tipsy” in French, and when I first started, I was doing alcohol-infused cupcakes while living in New York. Around the time of the whole cupcake craze, I considered myself to be a cupcake connoisseur. And after hearing my various critiques, a friend of mine suggested that I started baking my cupcakes and infuse them with alcohol. While living in New York, I purchased my first Kitchenaid mixer and started making cupcakes. Being in the hospitality industry, I naturally developed a passion for food, so I would take my cupcakes to work and get feedback from my colleagues. From there, I did events until later, moving back to Chicago and attending culinary school. This helped me to get more of a foundation and become more versed in different flavors. After doing catering for a while, I learned that I preferred baking and decided to open a kiosk in Chicago Ridge Mall, selling desserts in a jar. That gave me a good understanding of running a business and prepared me for the next step, which was opening a brick and mortar.

What are some of your offerings?

One of my signature items is a vegan sticky bun. I still make the desserts in the jar and will have people come in specifically for that. We are also known for our alcohol-infused desserts such as the bourbon pecan pound cake, which is a top seller. Occasionally we do a lemon meringue cheesecake that we can’t keep on the shelves. There are also breakfast sandwiches that are made with an assortment of jams that my mother makes and sells, as well as lunch items.

How did you choose the name Eméché?

I started out doing alcohol-infused cupcakes, but in the back of my mind, I knew that it would be much more than that. The reason I chose the name, Eméché, was because it said it, without actually saying it. So I knew that if I ventured out, I wouldn’t be pigeonholed or stuck in a niche. With that being in the back of my mind, I was able to evolve throughout the years.

What has been Eméché’s most memorable moment to date?

The way people have supported us by patronizing our business has been the most rewarding and has made me feel so proud.   Proud to be here, proud to be in Bronzeville, and just overwhelmed with gratitude. At one point, I wasn’t sure what was going to happen with the business, so just knowing that there are people who support us is one of the best feelings.

What has been the most significant impact that you’ve had on the lives of your customers?

I would say creating a space. My idea for the space was to bring the community back into the neighborhoods, and I think that we have done a great job. We make sure to remember names, acknowledge all customers, and have conversations with them. It’s even a great feeling when customers know one another and about their personal lives.

Have you had any collaborations or partnerships?

Yes, I partner with brands a lot. I’ve done events with Grey Goose, Martell, and Chandon. I also collaborate with local artists by showcasing their artwork and selling their books. This space is to help everyone. So any way that I can help my fellow entrepreneur or an aspiring artist, I’ll do it the best way that I can. I also do wholesale and sell my items in other restaurants.

What’s one thing that you want people to know about the work that you do?

I want people to know that I’m passionate about what I do and always keep the customer in mind. I also really enjoy it and wanted to bring something different to the community so people can feel safe to hang out and not feel like they have to spend their money elsewhere.

What does the future hold for Eméché?

The plan is to open a second location on the southside. I want to go into neighborhoods that don’t necessarily have this and give them something different, and just keep our dollars in our communities.

For more information on Eméché Cakery & Café, please visit https://emechecakeryandcafe.com/ and follow them on Instagram @emechecakery.

Racquel Coral is a lifestyle writer living in Chicago. You can find her on social media @withloveracquel

 

 

 

 

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