I've known Chef Jazzii for almost a decade. We met back in college when we were matched to be dorm mates, but back then she was just Jazmin to me, a determined college student pursuing her life's passion... cooking! Today, Chef Jazzii holds a bachelor's degree from the Art Institute of California, where we both studied and is one of only a handful of black women teppanyaki chefs.
A thriver at most things her parents pushed her to be involved in activities like flute lessons, cheerleading, basketball and beauty pageants. Always an over achieving student she was on track to go to an Ivy League college when her life's plan was suddenly derailed by teen motherhood. After a tragic house fire burnt down her family home, she was left homeless, living in her car and in and out of hotels, and with a child to provide for and her options dwindling she decided to go back to college.
Loving cooking growing up, she would create all types of meals for friends and loved ones and enrolled at The Art Institute of California, where she initially studied Baking and Pastries. Feeling as though something was missing she challenged herself and switched her focus to Savory Cuisine. After securing a job in the Student Registrar office she was selected by one of her chefs to work in his restaurant a winery in Temecula, CA., and even while dealing with a string of bad luck and outside circumstances she continued to push forward on the path she carved out, worked hard and graduated.
After taking on diverse culinary industry jobs and building experience her career was at a standstill and she began to feel bored and unfulfilled. After a birthday dinner at her boyfriend's teppanyaki restaurant and watching him perform for her table, she realized that not only could she do everything he did but she could make it better by adding her own flare and personality. Cooking in front of customers and incorporating tricks while preparing a meal for many people at once would be challenging but armed with her years of experience as a traditional chef she began to search for Teppanyaki job. Against the odds, she came across a job posting for a restaurant looking for chefs to train. She applied for the position and went on the interview. Impressed by her resume and previous experience she agreed to start next day.
Realizing during her training that she was being treated unfairly as a black women and that her new job had no intention of making her a chef she started using her boyfriend’s tools at home and taught herself tricks and sharpened her skills. When a chef who was training with her began calling off shifts she was finally given an opportunity. Thinking they were sabotaging her by giving her incorrect tools they quickly noticed that she was a natural.
Using marketing skills she learned in college and a think outside the box attitude she leveraged that she was a beautiful African American women with a big personality to draw customers. The head chef would hold her back at times but she never declined an opportunity to sharpen her skillset and hone her craft. Chef Jazzii told me, "I will never forget the thrill I had cooking at my first table, not having structure, but just vibing with the guest." Their food came out perfect and Chef Jazzii is the only Teppanyaki Chef in the world, to ever receive a perfect 5 star review on Yelp from their very first table. From that moment on she craved more! Finally allowed to cook she surpassed all expectations, even her own. Soon, she developed a following and regulars who would make reservation specifically to see her. She said she recalls "being on top of the world." Unfortunately, her happiness was cut short during a dispute over wages and after being told that "women just don't make as much as men," she was unjustly terminated.
Being a black women in an asian-male dominated business has been challenging for her, but she never let it hold her back. She is challenged daily and has experienced racial and gender bias from co-workers and guests alike. Chef Jazzii now owns her own catering business where she hosts “Garden side” Teppanyaki dinners and other off site catering events. "Being that I am the biggest believer, I decided to invest in myself and bought my own Teppanyaki grill," she told me when I sat down to talk to her.
A few weeks ago, I caught up with Chef Jazzii in her studio for a one-on-one interview where we discussed her life as a Chef, motherhood and how she brings her own personal flare to the world of teppanyaki!
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**A special thank you to the amazingly talented Nate Riley who helped film and produce our interview.