MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Throughout the years Jess Hewlett has donned a lot of different hats.
“I’ve been a customer service manager, I’ve been a two-year-old teacher, I’ve literally done everything.”
But no matter what job door she stepped in it was the kitchen she always made her way back to.
“If I had a bad day it wouldn’t matter and cooking food, everything about food, I’ve had bad days in the kitchen and I can’t stay away.”
Seeking guidance, she followed a chef named Dave Krog on social media. She admired a teenage story similar to her own.
“I started at a restaurant in downtown Tampa pouring water and rolling silverware,” explained Krog.
The story starts at 15. Krog had been cooking and providing for himself during some of those teenage years. Eventually his career led him to partner with the 275 Food Project, a development working to bring more local food to the Memphis market through partnerships and initiatives.
“We want to give back because we have been given so much.”
He eventually started an initiative called Ground-Up. It’s a culinary mentoring program that aims to inspire food professionals of color to pursue entrepreneurship.
It’s something Krog said is needed.
“It only goes so far. It only goes to the line cook, sous chef position maybe, and I started to think of who are my peers and of those peers how many of them are African American, Latino. Not many.”
That is where Jess comes in.
“I feel like a little black girl from Memphis is getting ready to get the opportunity to feed some people.”
Jess submitted a video and after interviews became a finalist of four to compete in the Ground-Up Cook-Off.
“There was a 10 person panel, some chefs, local celebrities, food writers and Jess won,” explained Krog.
But what she didn’t know is that three of the chefs who tried out came from Chef Krog’s kitchen. That slight disadvantage meant nothing.
Now Jess is preparing to lead the 275 Food Project restaurant in Soulsville with Chef Krog and his wife.
“I’ve lived in Frayser, I’ve lived in North Memphis, I’ve lived in a lot of places that would be considered low income parts of town. That’s what I want to do…feed as many people as I can from every walk of life local owned fresh food. Just something tasteful.”