06 May Chef D’Ambria on Winning Food Network’s “Great Food Truck Race – Alaska”
By Genet Lakew
Chef Dee’s grandfather, Papaw, had three daughters and no sons, so when his first grandbaby got big enough to hang with him, she became the boy he always wanted but never had.
“We went fishing together. We went hunting together. And I learned how to skin and scale my own meats and fish,” says Chef Dee of her childhood growing up under her Papaw in Tyler, Texas. “I learned how to find berries outside and make jams and go get my own fruits and vegetables out of the garden. A lot of those things I learned from him and that was such a great experience.”
Decades later, those skills would help her win the $50,000 prize on the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race – Alaska.
Black Girl Magic
Chef Dee teamed up with two other Black women chefs and activated their Black girl magic in the frigid Alaskan temperatures, using those early memories of getting her hands dirty with her grandfather as motivation to win the most extreme season ever of the food truck competition. Chef Dee, Nadia Ahmed and Misti Buard battled negative 10-degree weather, heavy snow and dangerous conditions to snag the top prize, making history as the first all-female team to win.
But it’s possible we may not even be calling her Chef Dee, born D’Ambria Jacobs, today if her first boss out of college hadn’t fired her. She was working at a wealth management company, putting her finance degree from the University of Houston to use, when her boss called her in for a meeting she didn’t see coming.
“You’re good at your job. You’re doing everything right. But you hate it,” he said.
He had seen a different side of her when the office threw a birthday party for one coworker and a baby shower for another. Chef Dee decorated and cooked the food for both. “You did all of that and you looked happier to me. Honestly, as your boss, you looked happier doing that.”
He gave her three months to leave and explore doing what she loves. And if she wanted to return, her job would still be waiting for her.
Leap of Faith
The next three months “off” weren’t the smoothest or the clearest, but she muddled through and made the decision to leap forward. She left that job and went on to teach finance at the University of Houston for a microfinance program designed to help minorities start small businesses.
She ended up learning while teaching. The program covered areas outside of finance, like marketing and business management, skills she’d later need for her own business, Sophisticated Delights, a contemporary catering company with offices in Houston and Dallas launched in 2014.
Chef Dee describes her cooking style as Southern fusion, one that is rooted in African American culture.
“Because for me to be able to prepare a meal for you in a way that speak to not only who I am but my style, it has to have that kind of old school, Southern root to it,” she says. “And so, I like to always bring in my cultural region to whatever I’m cooking.”
Her latest endeavor is a line of organic pink Himalayan salt blends called NeverBland, a low sodium option for seasoning.
“I designed it actually with my mom in mind because she’s the picky eater. I couldn’t get her to eat salmon. I couldn’t get her to change her diet. She’s like, ‘I want my fried pork chop, leave me alone,’” she says. “Of course, you want to be able to still indulge, we’re all human. You don’t want to take everything away but being able to moderate it was the key to me.”
Keep an eye out for her new summer line geared toward backyard cooking dropping in May, just in time for Lupus Awareness Month. Chef Dee was diagnosed with lupus at age 18 and intimately knows how health can shape our lives.
Click here for Chef Dee’s Black Peppercorn Sweet Potato Cornbread recipe.