After such a tumultuous year in the food industry, happy stories from the chef world are a bright spot to pay attention to. Today, publisher Brian Calle and Food Editor Michele Stueven are doing just that, cooking up another foodie edition of the L.A. Weekly podcast with celebrated Los Angeles chef Nyesha Arrington.
As one of Michele’s favorite chefs, the hosts have a lot of questions. When did Nyesha know that food was going to be her life? When did she know that this was the path she was going to take?
“I feel like being a chef definitely chose me, it wasn’t something where I was like ‘of I want to be a chef.’ When I look back at my life as a kid and as an adolescent adult, I was always cooking and I enjoyed it. I’d cook for my friends when I was in junior high and make these soups, I was always making these soups, and then I kind of lost [it],” she answers. “In high school they’re like ‘what are you going to do with your life’ and I kind of forgot about my passion because the world will tell you ‘oh you have to be a doctor or a lawyer.’ I don’t know, when I was in school it was like you had to have it all figured out by when you graduated high school. So you know, I put cooking on the back burner for a second, which was only about three months before I went ‘oh, I want to be a chef!’”
“That’s what my life had been telling me the entire time,” she continues. “So I went to culinary school.”
Culinary school proved to be the right choice, as it stirred her innate passion into a full-blown career.
“I remember the first day I sat in class, I listened to the chef … and he was so passionate about sauce and sauce making and in turn it made me very passionate,” says Nyesha. This was the root and foundation that led the young chef to working as a saucier in Michelin-rated restaurants.
“It’s something I really really loved,” she describes, telling the hosts of the complexities of her previous job. “I think cooking was always something that was ingrained in me because I really love to connect with the planet that we’re on and I think that chefs are ultimately nurturers.”
“Definitely I’m living who I’m meant to be on this planet, that’s for sure,” Nyesha laughs.
In an effort to have her passion for food touch the lives of more people, Nyesha plans on debuting a line of sauces for retail soon. The sauces are named for her grandmother.
Nyesha started her path at a very young age due to the love and guidance of her grandma, who had Nyesha in the kitchen as her sous chef whenever she could.
“I used to cook with my grandmother a lot, and I valued that time,” Nyesha says. Today, she is now passing those memories and skills on to her nephew, her “resident egg-cracker.”
“I’m always trying to think of ways to bring some of that culture and some of that soul into homes of other people and on the plates of other people, so you know for me, my affinity for sauces and my affinity for essentially storytelling through flavors is where this sauce came about,” she explains.
You have to be courageous in your steps and have the will to learn to succeed in the food industry, advises our guest. Having had to close two restaurants herself, she’s all too familiar with the incredible peaks and valleys that are just a normal part of chef life.
“I love to be able to see the smiling faces of people eating my food [and hear] the beautiful banter of conversation amongst tables. I really honor to be able to do that for people,” Nyesha says happily.
From empowering Selena Gomez and friends in the kitchen on HBO Max’s Selena + Chef to discussing the state of the industry in a post-COVID world, Nyesha Arrington dishes about it all on the L.A. Weekly podcast. Listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Cumulus Los Angeles.