Monday, February 29, 2016

And Where Do You “Where To?”: Jermaine “Chef Raw” Rawlings

I remember the very first time I tasted the culinary ingenuity of Jermaine “Chef Raw” Rawlings

It was at an impromptu gathering at his house, and he had decided to cook for a few — i.e., 30 — friends a delicious menu of Caribbean foods: red beans and rice, jerk chicken, cabbage and goat.

That dinner party was one of countless more to come, as he loved cooking and sharing that passion with any and everyone.

Yet what started out as a fun hobby has now turned into a prosperous profession. After earning his MBA from the University of Southern California in May 2015, Chef Raw launched Frat Boy Cuisines, a catering business mainly specializing in Caribbean foods.

In just a short amount of time, Chef Raw has garnered a ton of success. He’s worked in Los Angeles, Dallas and Washington, D.C. He’s catered scores of private events. And, he's cooked for a number of celebrities, including The Game, Boris Kodjoe, Nicole Ari Parker, Nicole Murphy, Garcelle Beauvais, Tyrese and Elle Varner. That’s all in less than a year of being open for business.

Recently, I had a chance to ask him a few questions about what it’s been like officially getting started as an entrepreneur and taking it all in stride. He shared the perks and challenges of being his own boss, ingredients he loves to work with, upcoming food trends and so much more.

Read on to hear all of what he had to say!

WilsonsGuide: How did you get your name "Chef Raw" and how did you first get started as a chef?
Chef Raw: I go by Chef Raw for multiple reasons. The two major reasons being that one, I haven’t had any professional training, and two, my last name is Rawlings.

There is an interesting story on how I actually got started as a chef. I started out hosting parties at my house and preparing food for my friends and other attendees. We had a series of epic parties that we titled “Caribbean Night,” and I also prepared food for a series of events called “Meeting Minds.” The praise that I received based on the taste of my food led me to audition for the show MasterChef, where I made it past the preliminaries and to the Top 100. Unfortunately, I fell short of my goal of making it on the show, but I came damn close! From there I realized that I had real potential and proceeded to start my own business as a chef.

WilsonsGuide: Did you ever think about joining a restaurant or an existing catering team, or did you always want to launch your own catering business?
Chef Raw: At one point, I seriously considered launching my own restaurant. I even have a number of investors that were willing to help me get up and running. After careful consideration, I realized that I didn’t want to be tied down to a brick-and-mortar location. So from there on, I made the decision to host my own events as well as providing services for private events.

WilsonsGuide: What are some of the challenges — and rewards  of running your own business? 
Chef Raw: There are many challenges in running your own business, the first being just starting and not letting people discourage you. Being an entrepreneur is a constant grind and literally an around-the-clock job. One of the greatest rewards of having your own business is that you don’t have to punch a clock. You’re your own boss. The downside to that is there is no clock and there is no overtime. If you get a call at 10 p.m. at night about an event, guess what? You answer it and you have that conversation. Why? Because as an entrepreneur, you’re always on the clock.

WilsonsGuide: You were in the U.S Air Force and also got your MBA. How, if at all, have these past experiences influenced you as a chef?
Chef Raw: My experience as an Air Force Officer has allowed me to have a heightened attention to detail that really comes in handy in this industry. My experiences from USC have given me a network and a business acumen that I am very thankful for.

WilsonsGuide: Of the dish(es) that you make, which one(s) do your customers seem to love and request the most?
Chef Raw: People love pretty much everything that I cook, but the thing that people consistently go crazy over is my tri-tip. Recently I did an event where I prepared jerk tri-tip, and all the attendees were raving about it.

WilsonsGuide: What's your favorite dish to create?
Chef Raw: My favorite dish to create is mac'n'cheese! There are so many different things that you can do with it. I made a spinach artichoke mac'n'cheese with bacon that was pretty damn amazing! You show me someone who doesn't like mac'n'cheese and I'll show you a liar.

WilsonsGuide: Top three ingredients to work with?
Chef Raw: My top three ingredient to work with are shrimp, garlic and lemon. Growing up in Maryland, seafood is an intricate part of the culture, so it's a no brainer not to mention. Shrimp cooks very quickly making it a "go" option when you're in a rush. 

I use garlic in just about every dish I make. It's an essential ingredient that adds an amazing flavor. Garlic also has medicinal purposes, lowering blood pressure and helping with acne, and it contains antioxidants. 

Lastly, lemon enhances flavors immensely. Just one squeeze of a lemon to a dish can kick it up a couple of notches instantly.

WilsonsGuide: What are some of the culinary trends you think will be popular for the upcoming spring and summer seasons?
Chef Raw: I think the upcoming trend for 2016 as a whole will be repurposing and using ingredients that would normally be discarded to make unique, amazing meals. I believe our society as a whole is making strides to become efficient and striving to waste less in the future. 

I also believe that people are moving more toward ethnic food, looking for restaurants featuring unique African-inspired dishes.

WilsonsGuide: Do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring chefs and aspiring business owners?
Chef Raw: Just start! I think people often get caught up in the details of things, causing them to overthink and to potentially "miss the wave" or essentially talk themselves out of following their dream. Experience is the best teacher. I'm not saying quit your job or anything, but actions speak louder than words, so just put yourself out there and see what happens. 

Another thing that is a necessity is having faith and confidence in yourself! Speak it into existence. People want to believe in you, and that's easy to do when they see that you believe in yourself. A lesson that I learned from Kevin Hart is that you have to "SAY IT WITH YOUR CHEST!!" and fake it until you make it. You have to start somewhere. People don't need to know that your "office" is really the back corner of your studio apartment. You have to start somewhere, so don't be afraid to talk the talk or walk the walk. 


WilsonsGuide: Where is your favorite “Where To” destination in L.A.?
Chef Raw: I've actually been on a Korean BBQ and Ramen kick lately. One of my favorite places to go is in Koreatown, called Hae Jang Chon. This is a Korean BBQ place that is pretty awesome. You go when you and a group of friends want to slowly drift into a meat coma from devouring an unlimited supply of marinated beef short ribs, Bulgogi and pork belly. This place is a must try if you're in the mood for Korean BBQ. There's also another place called Quarters that is a new and trendy version of Korean BBQ that has a pretty cool atmosphere with a fully stocked bar. 

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* *This interview was slightly edited and condensed for ease of readability; all photos courtesy of Jermaine “Chef Raw” Rawlings

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