If you’ve been watching Culture Kitchen on CLEO TV you’ve already fallen for the show’s bubbly and down-to-earth host, award-winning Chef Bren Herrera, a D.C. native bringing nonstop flavor and inspiration to the screen. While new fans may know and love the Afro-Latina lifestyle influencer best for her family recipes and stories, Herrera’s diehard supporters, that’ve been rocking with her for over a decade, know the lifestyle maven in the making wears a lot more hats. Pun intended! You see, Herrera’s signature hat collection (she has over 200!) is her thing, but she’s also a proud entrepreneur, author, lifestyle and travel writer, social activist, and stylist too.
But she wasn’t always the creative we know and love today. Once upon a time, Herrera was leading an entirely different life. She had a lucrative corporate law career that came to an abrupt halt after she was laid off from her job. Instead of getting right back on the same road, Herrera decided to take a major detour to bet on herself and leave that world behind in favor of following her heart and fueling her passions. Now she’s leading a life she loves, with purpose, and dedicated to inspiring you to do the same. We sat down to get to know Herrera a little better. Read on for instant inspo!
ESSENCE: What happened after you chose to go the entrepreneur route and leave behind a career in corporate America?
HERRERA: I immediately shifted, or pivoted, as they say these days (laughs) to working for myself. So, what did that look like in 2005? That was music and fashion. I launched an online boutique called B so Chic, which then turned into a blog and a lot of styling clients and fashion shows that I would produce in Atlanta. I was also singing full time and professionally, but it wasn’t paying the bills, so that was short lived. That entrepreneurial spirit, I think, was always there for me. But when I was forced into that situation, I was still in my 20s, and I just kind of took it as an opportunity to go after this artistry—Bren, the artist. Like, I was born to sing and perform and entertain people, so how was I gonna get there?
ESSENCE: Obviously, you continued to pivot and explore more passions. Tell us how you began to be known for your cooking skills too.
HERRERA: It all blew up and kind of snowballed when I moved to Atlanta. I was doing all this fashion stuff, but I was invited to cook on Good Day Atlanta, because word had kind of got around that I cook too. I took that opportunity and leveraged it into the House of Bren, my food and lifestyle brand where I occupy and dominate the food space. I had to figure out very quickly, in 2007 and 2008, what that meant. Blogs were just becoming a thing. Social media was not yet a thing. So, how do you become an entrepreneur when the resources are limited, and you don’t have an MBA, and business is not really your background? So, I had to be a very creative entrepreneur. That meant using all those resources that I had at the time, which was blogging and then my gift of gab. When I was doing this big fashion charity event in Atlanta, a local celebrity TV host emceed my event for free, so my way of thanking him was to return the favor and cook for him and his partner. At that event, a whole bunch of local Atlanta media were there, and that’s how I got the invite to cook on Good Day, Atlanta in 2008.
ESSENCE: Was that your big break?
HERRERA: That’s really the date where everything changed for me, because that was my first time ever on TV, like ever, and I was green as the 100 plants in my home. The rest is history. Emeril Lagasse called me two months later. I did my first network appearance with him on his new TV show, Emeril Green on Discovery, and then the calls just started coming in to do private events and dinner parties, catering events, school events, you name it.
ESSENCE: Through food, you found a larger path to explore all of your gifts. When did you learn to get down in the kitchen?
HERRERA: I am Cuban and Jamaican. I grew up in a very dynamic home where food was the center of everything, and my mom’s love language is food, and that’s how she shows everybody in the family and friends that, you know, she loves you and adores you, and she’s gonna pour everything into you. So, I grew up in an environment where food dominated as our love language. In college, I was known as the chick who could really cook well, so my apartment was always like the food spot. When I graduated, and worked in law, I was the one who used to have the dope dinner parties or bring really good food to the office. I’ve always been known as the girl who really loved to cook, so when I was in Atlanta, the food still kind of became my way of showing my friends that I appreciate them.
ESSENCE: Being authentic about your passions really lit your way to success. What advice do you have for others hoping to do the same.
HERRERA: I never had this blueprint, so I would like to mentor young women now. I’d tell them to have a business plan. Make sure that you know what your game plan is and have a strategy in place, so that you know what the next step is and what the next quarterly goals are. So, the difference between having influence and actually running a business is when that trend has passed and is no longer a thing, how are you going to sustain yourself? For me, the difference was what is the one thing that I know how to do really, really well that I can do and make a living out of and still honor who I am as a person and know that I’ll never get tired of pursuing the next best thing? It was always food. I just was truly moved by my heart and what I knew that I could do and what I was really great at, what made me feel good, and what would have impact. That was always cooking and entertaining people.
ESSENCE: You’ve talked about how your journey had ups and downs. Tell us more.
HERRERA: Everybody has said no to me. Food Network, Cooking Network, the Travel Channel, HBO, Showtime. I have gotten no’s from everybody, but I always said yes to myself. And, if I hadn’t said yes to myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today, being the first Afro-Latina woman to host a lifestyle cooking show on network TV. I probably would have gone back to law school because that would have been the easy route.
ESSENCE: The first? That’s huge. How does that feel?
HERRERA: To be able to do that and represent an underrepresented group of people, I take that as an honor, but also as a huge responsibility. I want my niece, Sophia, and all of our kids, to see it in the future and be able to walk into the room and know that they can occupy it without wondering when it’s going to be their turn. All these things that I had to go through, I don’t want them to go through that, you know? I’m in a really strong position to strike while the iron’s hot and really let people know who we [Afro-Latinas] are and I do that through food. Generationally speaking, we pass down our food and traditions and recipes, and food has helped people manage and survive certain things. I use food to tell those stories, keep the culture alive, but also introduce other people to the culture.
ESSENCE: You’re also known locally for the work you do to give back to your community. Tell us more.
HERRERA: One of the important things for me is just being an intentional person of service. There are so many people around us who aren’t seen and aren’t heard and are completely underserved. In my personal life, I try to be very intentional about serving my community, Black people, brown people, immigrants, and women, because I represent all those groups. For the last six years, I’ve been serving the D.C. underserved community. I have a tremendous group of volunteers that help me, and we serve 700 meals every year on Christmas Day and then MLK day. The goal is to establish a foundation so that we can serve these same underrepresented communities in a larger way and have much more impact.