For some time, Andrew and I have been talking about adding a new feature to Chewing The Fat. It’s called “YES, CHEF!” and it’s all about the people who make the food that we find so fascinating. Over the years, I have done a lot of interviews with Chefs everywhere we go. I’ve interviewed the Executive Chef for Viking Ocean and River Cruise lines, Anthony Mauboussin who is responsible for literally thousands of meals every day on board over 75 cruise ships. I’ve interviewed Chef Nano Crespo who brought Uruguayan flavors to South Florida’s EAST Hotel but who told me his favorite dish was actually a stew he learned to cook on a stint in Chicago. Most recently, on my Wheat Foods Council trip to the CIA in Napa, I had informal talks with a range of Chefs from one who oversees an entire chain of Fast Food restaurants called Sonic to others who feed thousands of college students on campuses from Colorado to the Dakotas. All tell wonderful stories of how they got where they are today.
So when my friend, Stacey, said she had a Chef she was dying for me to meet, I was intrigued. Especially since Chef Cliff Skighwalker is an Internet sensation. His ‘video home’ is at Thrillist.com and he does one thing: His “Instachef” series, now in its second season, ‘explores the network of chefs in American who deliver food strictly via Instagram’. Here’s what Thrillist has to say about his show: “Folks cook food in their house, post what they’re making on Instagram, and sell it to customers who come by. And these people aren’t trend-seeking foodies taking vanity glamour shots on Instagram, but former line cooks, restaurant workers, and home chefs taking success into their own hands to make a better life for themselves and their family. This is a hustle that’s about making a delicious food product and finding hungry customers in a new innovative way. Their food reflects the culture and community that developed these driven self-starters.” So Yes, Chef! We want to know all about you.
What drew you to a career in food?
Food was always an important part of my life at an early age. It brought my family together during the holidays, was a focus for summer functions, and seemed to always be around during events of substance in my life. Because of its proximity life-wise, it was only right that I made a decision to focus on a career path in food, and so far it has been working out well.
Did your family have a history in the kitchen?
From what I can recall, none of my family really were chefs for work. I had an uncle who was a line cook for a little bit but that was about it. I will say my grandmother was the person synonymous with food in my family. She spent a lot of time there supplying the family with quality food.
Who were your major influences in the kitchen…as a child and later as a chef?
As a child, my late grandmother was definitely an influence. She had her signature dishes that she would make (her trademark biscuits, her dressing on the holidays, and the jello she would make for my cousin and me which would be put in special fancy glasses), but the real thing I got from her was how meticulous she was with making food. Yes, at times, some of the steps were unnecessary, but the passion and effort she put into each step were unmatched. It made me truly care about anything I make to this day.
Later in life, specifically junior high school (ages 10-13), I was watching a lot of Emeril Live. That changed the game for me in terms of making food as a form of entertainment. Emeril had the live studio audience, the music from Doc Gibbs & Cliff during the commercial break… man, it was a whole setup and it kept me watching time and time again. Later in life, my big three in cooking influences were Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern, and Guy Fieri. Bourdain was really an artist in his articulation of emotions through food. With Zimmern, I enjoyed his quirky descriptions of what he eats, no matter how nasty it was. Finally, say what you want, but Fieri is an icon, and his ability to get on TV and bring you into the location he’s at is truly inspiring.
Did you attend Culinary School?
Not at all… major props and respect to everyone who takes that path.
Before Instachef, where did you work?
I was a content director for a multimedia website for 5 years before going into food entertainment.
What drove you to create Instachef?
Chefs in this category would be mentioned in certain mainstream segments, but no one was really doing a deep dive on this subject. Also, with the increased usage of social media, specifically Instagram, seeing chefs utilize a platform like this was the next level, and people weren’t really talking about it. Thus, I did extensive research on the subject and Thrillist took a chance partnering with me on ‘InstaChef’… and it’s paying off.
What is the one trait that Instagram Chefs have in common?
There’s a certain drive that chefs have who utilize Instagram that is unmatched. This is their way of not only living, but providing people with a service, and they’re all putting maximum effort into making their food some of the best in their respective areas. This passion is resulting in chef generating huge following across the nation and beyond.
How many Instagram Chefs are there?
Across the world? definitely the high hundreds…. thousands possibly. I don’t have a concrete number but I think I’m in somewhat of a correct range.
Who is the most inventive/unusual/unique Instagram Chef you’ve met so far?
I would probably have to roll with King Of Kings Plant-Based Cuisine (https://www.instagram.com/kingofkingsplantbasedcuisine/) in New Orleans. On ‘InstaChef’, I ended up going there with Machine Gun Kelly, and the food was all plant based and some of the best we had had all season.
Who cooks the most unusual food?
None of the food on the show was really out of norm honestly.
What needs do Instagram Chefs fulfill?
Instagram Chefs supply food that is sometimes not always available in the communities where they serve. In addition, these chefs are providing jobs in the community, uplifting the area, and a source of motivation and inspiration in areas where positivity is scarce.
What’s on the horizon on Instachef?
Hopefully, a third season is on the way. There are so many more chefs we have to cover, and more stories need to be heard. There’s also a chance for us to cross some international waters and see what chefs are doing in other countries. I can’t wait to see what Thrillist and I have in store.