GREENE COLUMN: Chef works for diversity
Kevin E. Mitchell is part of a minority, but he wants to change that. No, not his status as an African-American but as one of a few black certified executive chefs in Charleston and across the nation.
“African-Americans and women are grossly underrepresented in the industry,” especially in Charleston, he said.
As Chef Instructor at Trident Tech’s Culinary Institute of Charleston, Mitchell’s goal is to see an uptick in the chef’s ranks here.
Judging from his passion, there soon could be more black chefs and women chefs at events such as the Taste of Charleston.
What it takes
Mitchell holds two culinary arts degrees from Culinary Institute of America in New York.
But he was one of three blacks in his class of about 72 students.
At Trident, the numbers are better.
On the school’s North campus, about 1,000 students are enrolled in a two-year culinary program; half are minorities, including women.
Mitchell is pleased; students are entering a field he finds fascinating.
At 42, he wanted to be a chef since he was 6 years old chopping vegetables in his grandmother’s kitchen.
He has been a chef in Ohio, New York and Michigan. He ran a 600-seat casino restaurant in Detroit with a staff of 90 before coming to Charleston in 2008.
He now thinks it is time for him to give back; to help more minorities become chefs.
“Why are you here?” is a question he often asks students.
Then he tells them, “Don’t tell me, ‘My mother says I can throw down on frying chicken.’ ”
Being a chef is more than cooking; it’s learning to run a kitchen.
The Food Network and the many cooking shows, such as “Top Chef,” have made the business popular.
But he tells students that the job requires commitment, professionalism and passion. And it’s hard work. He often worked 70 to 80 hours a week.
But “I love it.”
Mitchell was hard pressed to think of a black executive chef who runs a top restaurant in Charleston.
Nationwide, there are a number, although they are not well-known.
In Charleston, there are several minority chef-owners. Blacks have worked with some of the world’s greatest chefs. But not many are running kitchens.
An industry that does not include blacks and women as chefs is doing itself a disservice, especially since many Lowcountry cuisines are African-inspired, he said.
Mitchell is a founding member of Bridging Culinary Awareness, which showcases minority contributions and seeks opportunities for them.
He and his students run a campus restaurant Tuesday-Friday this semester for lunch and dinner.
If Mitchell has anything to do with it, one day soon, his students may go on to run a restaurant locally or elsewhere.
Meanwhile, go on campus for an inexpensive but delicious full-course meal.
Maybe you’ll see what the future can look like.
Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555