Embracing the Label African American Black Female Chef

Interview with Central Kitchen Member Shirelle Boyd

How has your heritage shaped your career?

I fell into entrepreneurship cause I always wanted to sell some kind of food product. One of my role models was Mr. Wilson, a nice man whose kids I went to school with. He sold hot tamales out of a food truck and this was my first vision of a black entrepreneur—no frills, healthy, having a good time.

Being an African American Black Female Chef has held a lot of tears, work and late nights. I wanted to be a chef and the best chef that I could be, but if I had just embraced being labeled an African American Black Female Chef, I might have saved myself a lot of strife. Now that I’m older, I can walk into that space and feel comfortable being the only black woman. I didn’t want to be put in a box but I should’ve embraced it.

Tell us about your work. 

My business, The Right Spice, features local and authentic spices and herbs, providing cultural flavors, convenience and ease. I enjoy growing food and herb experimentation. My other company, Exquisite Touch Culinary Services provides consulting, recipe development and culinary education classes. I’ve also worked for the Sisters of St. Joe’s caring for 50 nuns for three years. I love it there and will never leave the job. It’s an opportunity to be of service, give back and introduce new colors and flavors to the sisters, while being closer to God.

I previously worked as a Kitchen Team Leader at Mustard Seed Market in Solon, where I was further educated about organic food and procurement. Prior to that, I worked for Bon Appetit Co. at Case Western Reserve which made me a tough chef and taught me sustainability, forward thinking and brought awareness of the food choices that we make as consumers and our carbon footprint. Bon Appetit worked to provide authentic flavors that appealed to the diverse student population, provided me access to organic ingredients and a new culinary paradigm.

My time at  Johnson Wales as a teacher’s assistant and fellow introduced me to the education realm. I love educating families about  food—mainly in food apartheid communities—establishing relationships with local farms and working to dismantle systemic racism in the food space. I teach people about food, what they don’t know but want to learn. I also teach cooking classes for children, where I get to teach kids how food can aid in caring for their bodies while they are young, so their bodies can take care of them when they are older. I learned food has a trickle down effect and that to reach the children you have to engage the parents too. I work with Famicos Foundation, which sponsors the now-virtual classes that I facilitate by delivering food kits that allow them to cook along with Chef Shirelle. I found this to be a successful tool in gaining parent engagement.

Tell us about your experience as a student in the Craft Food Classroom.

Central Kitchen and their Craft Food Classroom reflect the community that we’re in. The course is insightful and thought provoking. Craft Food Classroom helps you put your business in perspective and to take time to think through and perfect your process. It is an avenue for minority entrepreneurs to get light shed on them and get them in the room with the right people. Craft Food Classroom is an open door course—there wasn’t just one person like me and that’s always good. Diversity is good for business and it’s good for the industry.

Any parting thoughts?

No two chefs are ever created equal. The culinary field is getting to be more diverse and inclusive of different cultures. If you call yourself a foodie, go back to the original, authentic recipes and you’ll find that diversity provides the flavor, hues and textures of great cuisine. Diversity is the cornerstone of the exploration of cultures and their relationship to culinary art.