In a time when our FYPs are inundated with the same ramen hacks and tortilla origami, it’s hard for creators to carve out a space in food social media. But if you’ve ever watched Connie Jackson, better known as Chef Lovely, seasoning sushi rice or grilling jerk chicken, usually set to a throwback bop, you’ll instantly recognize that this is someone who’s completely at ease in the kitchen and, more importantly, with herself. (You don’t make eye contact with the camera like that if you’re insecure.) In partnership with Torrid — whose clothes are designed to fit your curves so you feel empowered and sexy at any size — we had Chef Lovely tell us, in her own words, how she has achieved that feel-it-through-the-phone confidence.
I fell in love with cooking at a very early age, just being in the kitchen with my mother. So, immediately my connection to food was about family, friends, fun, and communicating with one another. And it gave me confidence because I saw her be a businesswoman while taking care of her family, putting wholesome and nutritious meals on the table every night and packing our lunches. I was able to see a real-life superwoman in action. My mother would repeat affirmations to me, “You’re smart, you’re a good person,” which laid a character-building foundation in me.
One of my other close mentors is Gordette Brent, a dance instructor I met when I was 3 years old. She would say, “Lift up your chin! Is there money on the ground? If there isn’t money on the ground, don’t look down.” She encouraged us to show our best selves at all times, to always be prepared, to love yourself no matter what.
I remember the exact moment when I recognized the impact of her teachings. I was 16, and at the end of every year we had a dance recital, and we’d have to get fitted for costumes. I was usually the curviest girl in my class; I could see that my classmates looked different from me. But I was always in the front of all my dances, and that’s when I realized it wasn’t about how I look or the size and shape of my body — it was about my attitude and the hard work I put in. I was the first one in class and the last to leave. I’m so happy I was able to come to that realization at such a young age, and I’ve carried it with me my entire life. I’ve also been able to share it with so many students I’ve taught dance and cooking to.
My confidence continued to grow over the years from working with culturally diverse chef-mentors, earning three degrees in culinary arts, and making a lot of mistakes in the kitchen. When I was earning my first degree, one of my teachers said, “Walk four blocks outside, and you’re going to bump into at least 10 or 15 restaurants — what’s going to set you apart?” It was important for me to learn as much as I could about this industry so I could not only put my best foot forward, but I could also open the door for other young Black women coming behind me. Female chefs in general still don’t have the full respect male chefs have, so by accumulating knowledge, I felt that would set me apart from the competition. People will say to you: “I didn’t know you knew that.” “Yes I did. I’m here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
But don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It’s a humbling experience, and that’s how you can reposition yourself to continue to learn. One memorable mistake was when I was preparing shrimp and grits at a fundraising event. I grabbed the wrong container and ended up simmering vegetables in white wine instead of chicken stock, but with no extra food and the clock running out, I had to make it work — and it was delicious. That night, I accidentally created a new cooking technique that actually made my signature dish even better. Being able to share mistakes like these is also very important. On my TV show Lovely Bites or when people ask me questions online, I like to recount my mistakes so they don’t make the same ones. There’s no such thing as a loss — there’s only a lesson. Learn from your mistakes, and share that knowledge to help others around you.
That’s why I started making videos — because I wanted to give my fans and followers a little bit more of myself. As a chef, I’m focusing on people’s health, making sure things are perfect, and managing a staff, but people don’t get to see that I’m enjoying myself behind the scenes. I turned to social media, so I could give everyone a peek at what I’m doing. I just turned on the camera. I didn’t think about it, I didn’t rehearse — I just started cooking. Every time I filmed a new video, I got increasingly more comfortable. People told me I was relatable, and I’m happy they picked up on my vibe. I love that I get to connect with people all across the globe (Australia, Germany, Nigeria, Barbados), who tell me they’ve tried my recipe. I’m like, “Girl, you’re all the way in Barbados and you’re cooking my food?” It’s really cool knowing that even if I’m not in Barbados, my recipes are, so my essence is there, too.
If you can stay true to yourself, everything is going to be okay. No one can deny authenticity, no one can deny confidence, no one can deny boldness. My sauce is going to be different from your sauce, but that’s what makes me beautiful. That’s what makes me sexy. So anyone’s who’s feeling low or at a crossroads or having a down day, just remember that whatever you love to do, nobody’s going to be able to do it like you. So move forward with that at the top of your mind, and slowly, it’ll help you build up the confidence to say, “If no one’s going to do it like me, let me give it 150,000% and really show everybody what I got.” Never forget that: Your sauce is boss. And no one can touch it.
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