New Soul Kitchen: A Conversation with Chef Jernard Wells and Chef Porsche Thomas
Vegetarian, pescatarian, vegan, gluten free, salt-oil-sugar free— there are so many different diets to pay attention to in the kitchen. With the rise of all these different lifestyles, media and cooking shows should reflect how an everyday kitchen might run. New Soul Kitchen, a recent addition to the CLEO TV lineup, uses easily digested cooking segments to highlight how vegan cooking doesn’t need to be alienated in the kitchen. Together, Chef Jernard Wells and Chef Porsche Thomas use their platform to introduce health conscious and vegan dishes to their audience. In a show that’s the first of its kind, we get to see two chefs of color bouncing off each other’s energy showing a way of cooking that hasn’t always been marketed to us.
Chef Porsche tells me her love for cooking started since she was a kid. As the oldest of five children, she found herself in charge from a young age. The daughter of restaurateur, Peter Thomas, she’s been exposed to the food world since a child. She explains how she learned her love for cooking could be a career:
I always knew I loved it and my dad is a restaurateur so it was just sort of around me. It wasn’t until high school that I thought I wanted to do it as a job. [My father] said when you graduate, you can come work for me. I thought never mind so I never went to culinary school.
Chef Jernard’s passion also blossomed at a young age. He started cooking when he was 8 years old. With a chef for a father, Jernard spent a lot of time in the kitchen, cooking alongside his father. He felt a connection to the emotions evoked by food. “ I just loved the way it made people feel, the way the people in the community reacted to his food, I wanted to have that same feeling,” he says.
I asked Chef Jernard for the aha! moment that led him to cooking professionally. Chef Jernard shares:
It wasn't until I was 16. I came up with the bright idea, I wanted to open a restaurant to make money to purchase my first car. I had $50 and just an idea of opening up a restaurant out of my mother’s kitchen in Mississippi, at the time. Granted, I didn’t even realize it would pave the way for many things. I made enough money not only to buy my first car but also to pay my way through culinary arts school, open up my first brick and mortar restaurant which later led to me owning 9 restaurants.
What started as a chance opportunity to cook alongside once-upon-a-time culinary superstar, Paula Deen, led Jernard to roles like cooking and traveling the world with Tyler Perry. He’s also come to be known as the chef of love, evident from one of his eight cookbooks, 88 Ways To Her Heart: Cooking For Lovers From The Kitchen To The Bedroom.
Like Jernard, Chef Porsche has also spent time cooking for celebrities. She shared how her start led her to where she today:
I always would cook socially and it wasn’t until I started to cook for Russell Simmons that I thought I could actually do this as a job. That maybe started at 8 or 9 years and I’ve been cooking for work ever since and TV sort of just happened.I always thought it’d be cool to have a cooking show but it sort of just happened and I got to work with Jernard!
Cooking for television was a serendipitous act for the pair. Chef Jernard tells me his time on stage cooking with Paula Deen was a bit of a sounding board for his career and ten years on Food Network.
I think from that point, I got hit by the entertainment bug. Just doing that event opened up so many doors for me to go into the entertainment field. I understood not only can I reach people through restaurants and cooking for but I can reach people from TV and that’s where my true love came because my whole goal has always been to share the way I feel with the world.
As a vegan chef, Chef Porsche finds it important to create a balance in using plant based foods in their natural state alongside quicker, processed alternatives like Daiya cheese. She shared a little about her process:
When I make my lentil loaf, we have so many vegan beef options that I can easily make a meatloaf out of a Beyond Burger. Trader Joe’s has their own version, I can totally make that same dish with a processed food but instead I make it with lentil. If you want to cook with a whole foods diet, there is a way to do it without having all those processed foods. Instead of buying vegan cheese like Daiya, you can make a cheese sauce with cashews or hazelnut.
Chef Porsche’s vegan lasagna actually incorporates both. She uses a butternut squash cashew cheese and hazelnut ricotta then uses Daiya mozzarella for the gooey texture she loves. Chef Jernard may not be vegan currently but he’s no stranger to the lifestyle. He shares, “at one point in my life, I actually became a vegan because everything that I was creating, I wanted to fully understand. In all of my cookbooks that I write, I have a complete vegan section in there. I became vegan once for about 18 months.” He explains that in his role doing R&D for a vegan product company, he felt it was necessary to go all in and put himself in the position to adapt the lifestyle himself.
As far as what’s next, Chef Jernard will be a headlining chef at Essence Fest’s 25 year anniversary. Keep an eye out for him in NOLA. Leading up to that, he’ll be working on his next cookbook where he explores the history of foods of the African diaspora. Chef Porsche will be taking her talents to Miami for a bit to help consult on a plant based menu for her father’s upcoming restaurant, Sports One Miami. Will the Impossible Burger make the cut? We’ll have to wait and find out.
You can watch episodes of New Soul Kitchen on MyCleoTV.