Life and Religion
|Personal chef Chianti Peek’s always cooking with life experiences|
|Cuisine is path to personal growth|
|Published Thursday, March 14, 2019 12:55 am|
|COURTESY CHIANTI PEEK|
|Chianti Peek, who grew up in Charlotte’s Hidden Valley neighborhood, is personal chef to Hornets star Kemba Walker.|
Cooking is therapy for chef Chianti Peek.
When the 34-year-old Charlottean found herself caught up in a wave of layoffs produced by the Great Recession, she turned toward the kitchen, a place where she loved to create. Now she is the personal chef for NBA All-Star Kemba Walker.
“I got to a low point during the recession,” Peek said. “I was working for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools [as a bus driver]. They did a lot of layoffs. I lost everything. It felt like cooking was a therapy session for me. It was like I found another gift within a dead end. I’ve been pretty much digging into it, cooking ever since.”
Peek, who grew up in Hidden Valley, graduated Independence High School. While she did not attend culinary school, her career as a self-taught chef has not suffered.
“I feel like you can do anything you want to, if you put your mind to it,” Peek said.
While Google and YouTube served their purpose during her development as a culinary artist, having a mentor also contributed to her success. Among those she seeks advice from is chef Travis Hearne, previously of Vivace, who recently opened The Dunavant in South End.
“When I say ‘self-taught,’ I mean I got these different jobs at these high-end restaurants in Charlotte and I was working under a lot of great chefs,” Peek said. “I put all that together, and that’s basically my culinary arts school.”
Hands-on experience proved beneficial to Peek, and her career eventually led to the realm of becoming a personal chef.
“A friend of mine connected me with [Carolina Panthers quarterback] Cam Newton’s agent, and I ended up cooking for Cam Newton,” Peek said. “That opened the door for other things. Aside from just cooking for Cam on the private chef end, I was already selling individual plates to the community in Charlotte, and stuff like that.”
Word of mouth and social media have played pivotal roles in her success.
“Instagram is a strong networking tool,” Peek said. “I don’t know why people sleep on it, but I have a lot of great followers, a lot of great supporters from places I haven’t even been. That’s what helped me get there. They found me on Instagram, and called me, and said, ‘Kemba needs a chef.’ I was like, ‘I’m there.’”
While she does not have a favorite dish to create, Peek loves making pasta.
“My cuisine is more like a flavor fusion,” Peek said. “I do a lot of Asian. I do a lot of Italian. I do a lot of Caribbean. Of course, a lot of soul food.”
Peek will host a free cooking class for kids ages 8-12 at Be Social (1519 Central Avenue) on March 30 from 1-3 p.m. with the assist from 15 year-old chef Jasmine Bell, a freshman at East Mecklenburg High School.
“We’ll be cooking it up,” Peek said. “She is phenomenal.”
Exposing aspiring chefs to new experiences helps create a space for them right here, right now.
“Just to show them that no matter how old you are, you can do it, and that somebody really cares to take out the time to show them, ‘look, I was a kid too, and now I’m working with Kemba Walker or Cam Newton,’” Peek said.
What’s next for Chef Chianti? She’s producing a documentary.
“We’ve been working on that for six years now,” Peek said. “My videographer and my team, they have behind the scenes from when I did my first event all the way up to now. They have some scenes where we went to my old high school, a few family members’ graveyards, because I lost eight family members last year. You’re going to know everything from the struggle to the good times.”
Subscribe to The Creatives podcast on Spotify, SoundCloud and Apple Podcasts for exclusive episodes featuring Chef Chianti and Chef Jasmine. Follow them on Instagram @chefchianti and @chefjjmastermind.
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