Name: Jeff Vaden
Occupation: Executive Chef of Soul Luxe Caterers
City: White Plains, New York
ESSENCE.COM: Congrats on being a finalist for Food Network's search for their next big star. What did you take away from the experience?
JEFF VADEN: It was one of my best experiences in life thus far. To be selected as one of ten finalists from a pool of thousands is an honor I take to heart. It forced me to take a look at myself as far as personality, skill, presentation, education and confidence. My only regret was that America never got the opportunity to witness all facets of my culinary portfolio. I met some amazing individuals and I will cherish the time and exposure afforded to me.
ESSENCE.COM: That's great. So what are some of your best cooking memories?
VADEN: My grandmother would baby-sit me as a kid when my parents had a night on the town. The next morning we cooking pancakes together, and it was those quiet times with her that I cherished the most. Those light and fluffy pancakes will forever stay in my mind when thinking of my grandmother. So cooking is a skill that I picked up at a very early age. It gives people pleasure and I love pleasuring people. Plus I love to eat as well so learning to cook was essential for my survival.
ESSENCE.COM: (Laughs.) Share your best cooking tip.
VADEN: Always include love in the pot, love in the dish and love in any ingredients. Never serve anything that you are not happy with.
ESSENCE.COM: And how do you make cooking sexy?
VADEN: I take a single ingredient and turn it into the most powerful aphrodisiac you have ever encountered. For example, most people find oysters on the half shell to be intoxicating. I, on the other hand, take the oyster, drench it in a southern batter, fry it up and it works even more so when all the flavors combine to form that flavorful bite that seems to melt in your mouth and dribble down your thin. It is almost orgasmic!
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