Your Private Chef is Spicing Things up in North Lawndale
For some, our favorite cooks did not finish passed grade school. During chattel slavery there was always one cook responsible for feeding an entire plantation three meals a day from scratch but prohibited from learning to read and write.
Although Skyler Dees has no formal culinary arts training he is a private chef who currently cooks for and with the youth of the Young Men’s Educational Network (YMEN) in North Lawndale. He has also taught culinary arts as part of workforce development programming for organizations like A Safe Haven and Inspiration Kitchen.
“Now I have no formal training as a chef and I’ll give the world that but I know how to cook, I can teach people to cook and my food is really good.”
His first cooking experience happened as young as 3-years-old after trying to imitate his grandmother’s baked apples and almost burning his house down. He said that memory reminds him that cooking has always been a passion and furthermore a skill and talent.
He started at A Safe Haven as a participant and ended up becoming an instructor. Once he relocated his services to Inspiration Kitchen, Dees learned that the importance of being an instructor was not just about teaching the skill/trade itself but acknowledging the demographic of students and their personal and sociopolitical connections to the workforce.
Many of his students have been youth, returning citizens and military veterans of Westside communities.
As Dees prepares for summer harvest at the BluMEN Community Garden at the Homan Square Community Center he is working to not only sustain but cultivate the fact that anyone can grow and sustain good food.
“We don’t grow food at all and the reason why we don’t grow food is because we can’t go outside and pick fruit from a tree and the only fruit we see is on a stand in a grocery store and that [molds] our perspectives.”
His work as a private chef also includes catering and meal prep. His meal prep consist of five meals a day for a week. The meals are prepared by him through what the client chooses to eat as well as Dees input and suggestions
Dees said that he would constantly find himself teaching culinary arts for different organizations and wants to do more with his cooking skills. He’s in the process of attaining restaurant space on 16th Street and Hamlin Avenue.
He says he wants to serve food in North Lawndale by building a space for private events and a daily grab-and-go food service. He is in the beginning stages of this as he works to receive funds for the space.
Dees said that he wants to cook and grow food for his community and as long as food deserts exist he will will continue to press the importance and benefit of growing food.