Chef Star Maye Went From Overlooked To On Top Of Nashville’s Food Scene
Mary Craven

This story is featured in the July/August issue of ESSENCE.

Executive chef at Nashville’s hip restaurant and CBD-centric coffee shop Anzie Blue, 42-year-old Star Maye once believed such lofty roles would elude her. For more than 20 years in the food-service industry, they did.  

Cooking for others was her calling. As a child in Alabama, Maye watched her grandmother make meals every Sunday for as many as 50 relatives. She got her chance to contribute when she cooked her first dish, grits, at age 4. As an adult serving in the U.S. Navy, she was whipping up meals for fellow servicemen and women. “People were like, ‘Star, your food is really good,’” she recalls. “By my mid-twenties I was like, Hmm, this might be a thing.”  

But once out of the military, the single mother of a young son struggled to readjust to civilian life. “I ended up in the penal system,” she says, adding that she served three years. After her release, she had a hard time finding work and decided to dive headfirst into cooking. She moved to Florida and, at 29, started as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Pensacola, working her way up the ranks. The head chef, recognizing her talent, taught Maye how to do everything, from dicing onions properly to making béchamel sauce.  

From there, Maye sought interesting gigs around the country, including cooking at fishing camps in Alaska; her son was cared for by her parents and siblings. But such adventures didn’t translate to changes in her positions at the restaurants where she landed. She could do it all—but everywhere she went, executive chef roles seemed to go to White men. “Sometimes I even had to train him on what his job was supposed to be,” she says. “So it wasn’t only insult, it was injury, too.”  

It happened so often that Maye decided to leave food service. Eight years ago, she moved to Nashville to attend school for aircraft maintenance. But soon after she arrived, a friend who worked at Anzie Blue told her they needed help creating a breakfast menu. Just like that, Maye was back in the kitchen—this time earning the title of executive chef. “After twenty-something years, I had given up on ever being captain of the ship,” she admits. 

A year into the fulfillment of Maye’s top-chef fantasy, Anzie Blue has become a culinary hot spot—touted for “Best Brunch” in the city by food publications—thanks to Maye’s chicken and waffles, shrimp and grits, and more. She’s also created popular themed brunches, from gospel to drag. In addition, Maye recently released her first cookbook, A Star Among Us: A Chef’s Story, sharing the menu she’s designed at Anzie Blue. As a proud queer woman, she released the book in June for Pride month—with proceeds going to the Trevor Project, which is known for suicide-prevention efforts in the LGBTQ community. But she’s most grateful these days to have a bond with son Trenton, now 21, that she couldn’t have during tumultuous times in her life. “Mom had to be very transparent, and admit what the issues were, and apologize to my child,” she says.  

Professionally and personally, Maye is seeing all of her dreams come true. “All my life there’s been a ceiling,” she reflects. “Now it’s open. There are no limits for me.”