Deborah Fewell moved to Hollywood for acting, and soon found herself in the kitchen of the biggest stars as a personal chef, from NBA stars to Will and Jada Pinkett Smith. We caught up with the Le Cordon Bleu graduate as she was taping the new season of her TLC show "Home Made Simple" to discuss her rise to the top and tips every cook should try.
ESSENCE.COM: Congrats on season four of the TLC home makeover show "Home Made Simple." What are some tips families can try at home for efficiency in the kitchen?
DEBORAH FEWELL: Try meals with five ingredients and five steps. There are a lot of ways to cook pot roast and there is also the simple way. You can add meat, carrots, celery and spices, then set it and forget it in a crock pot. That frees you up to spend time with the kids and come back later. Another big tip is a one-pot wonder with your protein, vegetables and starch in one dish.
ESSENCE.COM: Sounds tasty. Now, at Howard University you majored in musical theater, so how'd you end up a professional chef?
FEWELL: I've been cooking since I was 11, but it came secondary. In my teen years I danced and continued to study the arts, and after college I moved to L.A. to pursue acting. My friends and I would have potlucks and my candied yams were a hit. They encouraged me to study culinary and I did. Those yams got me on "The Food Network's Next Star," and I was as first runnerup. While in New York for the show, I became the chef for [NBA player] Penny Hardaway.
ESSENCE.COM: Will and Jada Smith and their family have been enjoying your food for five years. How'd you land the role as top chef to the world's biggest star, and what's their favorite dish of yours?
FEWELL: I met someone who worked for their company Overbrook through a friend at my birthday party and she told me they were looking for an African-American chef to stay home with Jada and the kids, while Will traveled. I came over and cooked breakfast, lunch and chicken tortilla soup for dinner. Jada really liked it and they hired me. Their son Jaden loves my monkey bread and Will enjoys different recipes like my banana French toast, which are priceless moments as a chef for people to appreciate your food.
ESSENCE.COM: Definitely. And any last tips for people who are just discovering their cooking skills?
FEWELL: Don't be intimidated by the kitchen. Try out as many recipes as you can, to see where your abilities lie and have everything in order and all your ingredients out before you start, which will make it less stressful. Also, bring your culture into the kitchen. My dad is from Trinidad, so as a kid I was privy to flavors, and now incorporate that robust taste in my meals. Don't be afraid to experience and play with things, turn on the music, grab a class of wine and get to cooking.
Catch Deborah on "Home Made Simple" Saturdays at 12 P.M. EST on TLC.