August 2022…We might be in the dog days of summer, but I’m so excited to feature my first celebrity chef and author, Keith D. Jones, as the subject of this month’s author interview. I admit to being a ‘food snob,’ not in the sense that I have to have gourmet meals, no, but in the vein of healthy, fresh ingredients prepared with love and care and a touch of the creative. That’s exactly what Keith brings to his table — a dedication to eating healthy while bringing custom cuisine to the dining experience. Jones knows what it takes to overcome obstacles, battling poverty and oral cancer on his way to success as a chef and author. He followed his debut book, Cooking Up Your Dreams, with Well Done, which chronicles his culinary journey and the lessons he learned along the way. Please join me in extending a very warm welcome to our August author, Chef Keith Denard Jones.
Janet Irvin: One of my favorite things to learn is how a person finds his life path. How did you make the turn from cooking to writing?
Keith D. Jones: I had an English teacher who I adopted at a pretty early age(because my father was an absent alcoholic) and I really wanted to please him so I tried to become better at reading and writing. Now fast forward to my culinary career and writing is a skill that is totally under the radar. You need to write all kinds of recipes and reports, so as a chef there’s a good amount of time spent writing.
I took it a step further first by being in the celebrity chef space I needed to have what all the other celebrity chefs had and that was some form of book/cookbook. After years spent competing in culinary competitions and winning my fair share of awards, one day it just hit me that when all is said and done, those medals and awards just collect dust on some wall or desk and I figured that writing books is a way to establish a legacy, so my first couple of books chronicle my path in this industry and because it’s in print, can be shared with future generations.
JEI: Your bio mentions overcoming the obstacles of poverty and oral cancer. What role models helped you during those struggles?
Chef Jones: I briefly mentioned my English teacher, Mr. Duncan MacLeod(may he rest in peace.) I was fascinated and drawn to him at a very early age(3rd grade) and we formed a life-long bond. He guided me all through high school and stayed a constant in my life until his passing, as I said I adopted him as my dad.
My mom, brother, and sister were my other role models. My dad’s issues had a very positive effect in bringing us closer together as a family. We knew our struggles and had love for one another which still resonates to this very day. We’ve battled through life’s challenges and suffered through our ups and downs as all families do but when all is said and done we don’t have any bitterness or hostilities as many families do. We have pure love for each other and it’s beautiful.
JEI: As a life-long educator, I love your mantra of passion, preparation, and persistence. How do these factor into your success as a chef and then as an author?
Chef Jones: What a great question. There are a lot of similarities between the two(chef/author) and in order for you to be good, both require a certain level of commitment. That’s just the beginning. You get to make the ultimate decision(in both skillsets) on just how good you want to be. In my opinion, passion is a gift that many people don’t realize or take for granted. It keeps you in the proper frame of mind, allows you to stay humble throughout the learning process, and it makes the learning exciting until you’re ready to move on to the next chapter in your growth(whatever that may be.)
The two work in conjunction with one another as success(the ultimate goal) is a consistently moving target that doesn’t come quickly or easily(unless you’re lucky.) There will be all kinds of obstacles and setbacks in your journey, so the preparation is a constant. You should always be willing to learn and hone your skills in whatever environment or situation you’re in and persistence is just this simple….don’t give up or quit until you’ve achieved your goal. I look at success as a marathon race and you never know where you are. The only thing you know for sure is if you quit, you won’t finish. Crawl, walk, jog or run but whatever you do, don’t stop….that’s the only way you don’t succeed!
JEI: You credit Master Chef Edward Janos as your mentor. Can you share with us how the two of you connected?
Chef Jones: I started my high school career in a pretty advanced school, Cass Tech where the best of the best of the city went. My family moved during my junior year from the city of Detroit to the suburbs so I enrolled at the local high school, Oak Park High. I almost had enough credit hours to graduate as a junior(under their system), needing to only take a couple of core classes. They needed me to be in school for at least 4 full hours so they could qualify/get state funding for me. They looked at my records and saw that I participated in a foods program at Cass and immediately put me in their vocational program, giving me a foods class(which I hated.)
Once I graduated, I received a listing of potential jobs every month and as a true blessing from God. At the first job I applied to I met my mentor and friend(to this very day) Edward Janos. I was extremely nervous for my fascinating interview where he only asked me two questions. Do you want to work? Do you want to work hard? That was it! I answered yes sir to both and the rest as they say is history.
JEI: You have an Amazon Best-seller in your book Well Done: Bringing Soul to the Recipe of Life, but your first book is Cooking Up Your Dreams, isn’t it? Both are fabulous titles with a serious message. Who provided the impetus to bring these works to print?
Chef Jones: Yes, you’re correct on both titles and for the Cooking Up Your Dreams, it’s One Man’s Journey from Cooking TV Dinners to Cooking Dinners on T.V.(couldn’t resist) I’m totally responsible for both. The first one I had this crazy idea that I wanted to go into schools to talk to kids about the importance of eating healthy. At that time in my career, I volunteered for a few organizations that needed male role models of color to work with the school(sign me up and count me in.)
After a few visits I thought it would be really easy for me to write a book, get it in school libraries and then go and visit those schools, do a cooking demonstration and then I could sign autographs of the books(schools would purchase them in bulk) for the students to hopefully inspire them to follow their dreams. I could not have been more wrong. It proved to be a greater challenge than I was ready for to work with the schools.
For the Well Done title, it was all about fulfilling the celebrity chef persona and leaving behind a legacy for future generations. I know from all my years in the industry that my story is pretty compelling, so putting it in print was a very easy and gratifying decision.
JEI: How did you find your publisher?
Chef Jones: I self-published the first one and worked with a dear friend who at the time was the president of the Colorado Black Journalists Association. He was my mentor on the project and took me and it from concept to reality. For the 2nd book, I’m published through Queen V Publishing Valerie Lewis Coleman. I met her several years before I decided to contact her for publishing.
When we first met, I wasn’t anywhere close to being ready and she was a dynamic entrepreneur and a real go-getter! I set it in my mind that someday I hoped to be worthy of her services and took my time to get my manuscript done, then made the fateful call!
JEI: How long did it take from rough draft to publishable copy?
Chef Jones: It took me about a year and a half(19 months to be exact) to do my first book and about 8 years to do my second. The first book was all passion from beginning to end, I was excited with the end result stuck in my mind; I would be a published author. It was full speed ahead until it was in print. For the second book, it was all preparation and persistence. I was working a full-time job AND building my celebrity chef brand during my off time so the process took forever. Some days and weeks I wouldn’t write a thing but just organize thoughts in my mind.
Other days I’d sit at the computer and live in a zone, cranking out content like I was a real writer that had something to say! (LOL) I wasn’t in a hurry and didn’t have an artificial timeline that I was trying to adhere to. It was all about letting the story come to life.
Once the pandemic hit, I got furloughed from my job in March 2020 and I got with Queen V Publishing and it took until June 21 for me to have printed copies available for purchase. She works with various authors at any given time so some of the time stretch was a function of her availability.
JEI: How did you decide which recipes to include?
Chef Jones: After editing the manuscript, the book set up almost like a travelogue so it was an easy process to select the recipes relative to the content per the chapter.
JEI: You have a busy life with travels across the country, live shows, presentations. Is it difficult to manage all the aspects of your day?
Chef Jones: First off I’ll start by answering no it’s not difficult at all. Now I’ll tell you the reason why… because I have an incredibly talented V-P of business development Jodie Leschuk who helps me with all aspects of what I’m doing. I knew very early on that I couldn’t do this myself and I had worked with her in the past where she made a lasting impression. Once I got ready, I searched her out and we came together on a plan, and it’s been a real treat to work with her. She’s been a true godsend and instrumental in my growth and celebrity chef brand development.
JEI: Keith, because Michelle Obama is one of my top five most admired women, I have to ask what it was like working with the First Lady. And is she a good cook? 😉
Chef Jones: I was incredibly lucky to have been in her presence. It was a trip of a lifetime to go to the White House when she was the first lady and launched her Let’s Move Program which was designed to address childhood obesity. I was one of over 700 chefs that visited the White House for the press conference and activities for the official launch. Everything was planned out so I didn’t get the formal chance to work with her.
Everyone wanted a piece of her time but she was well guarded and limited in what she could do. We were set up on the south lawn and we got to walk the ground and even visit her garden, which is where I had a great exchange with some high school students from DC. She has a very captivating aura, kind, gracious, intelligent, and down-to-earth all at the same time.
JEI: What’s on tap for you in the coming months?
Chef Jones: There’s a two-part answer to this question. Unfortunately all the exciting stuff I cannot talk about(at this time) as it would violate the confidentiality agreements in place. Stay tuned and if you have me back, then hopefully the timing will fall into place where I can give you the first exclusive on announcing what’s “new” in the world of Chef KDJ.
For the things that I can speak about, I have another book on my computer that I hope to finalize and publish within the next two years.
I have a TV show pilot that’s being shopped so please keep those fingers crossed for me to realize a positive outcome. I’ve been approached to become a brand ambassador from a Japanese company and that deal is coming together, and I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to open back up from the pandemic shut down, which will allow me to get back to traveling and doing more events across the country.
JEI: Now, for a little fun…When you’re just kicking back and relaxing, what’s your favorite snack?
Chef Jones: French Fries, followed by potato chips, followed by popcorn! The kernels get stuck in my teeth so I have to limit myself. Lastly, during season, watermelon moves right up to the top of the list!
JEI: Do you have a special place to do that relaxing?
Chef Jones: Anywhere fishing with a friend used to be my ultimate but over the past couple of years that was all taken away.
Now I’m a homebody. Sitting at my kitchen table working on the computer or in the den in front of the TV does it for me. Since I’m the ultimate mama’s boy, right in my mom’s kitchen(back in Oak Park, Michigan) is my first choice but I don’t get that enough.
It’s unfortunate that the pandemic has significantly affected how we get out and move around and hopefully, it’ll all come back.
For more about Chef Keith D. Jones, check out the following: http://www.chefkdj.com; firstname.lastname@example.org