Each month we feature a Chef of Chef Works®. If you’re a fan of Chef Works gear and are interested in being featured, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Pictured above is our September 2021 Chef of Chef Works®, Sterling Wright, photographed by Chef Works in his NANTES CHEF COAT.
There’s no denying that Chef Sterling Wright, private chef and Season 13 finalist of Hell’s Kitchen, is a man living out his purpose. Simply chat with him for a few minutes (or watch any of his clips on YouTube) and you’ll be inspired by both the passion and ease with which he speaks about his mission. Not only is Sterling’s positive attitude infectious, but perhaps one of the most notable traits about him is that he puts L-O-V-E in his food. He also believes in being of service, whether that’s putting a smile on your face when you eat his cooking or giving back to the inner city communities he grew up in.
For this month’s edition of Chef of Chef Works, we spoke with the Nashville, Tennessee native about the philosophy behind his cooking, what led him to turn down a job from Gordon Ramsay, and how his past has shaped his destiny (in the very best way).
Chef Works: Tell me a little bit about how you got started in the industry. How did you become a chef?
Sterling Wright: Well, being honest with you, my dad came home one day from work, and my mom didn’t have food ready, and my dad said, “Boy, you better learn how to cook,” and I’ve been cooking ever since.
Chef Works: What do you love about cooking?
SW: I know that my cooking, my style of cooking, just doesn’t feed you — I feed your soul. My food dictates your day and food can dictate your life. Look at your food when it’s not good. That’s how your day turns out [laughs].
Chef Works: How would you describe your style of cooking?
SW: Different [laughs], because I put ministry behind whatever I’m cooking. And like I said, I’m not just only there to feed you. I’m there to feed your soul. I’m very spiritual. I just let my hands give what I’ve got. It’s my purpose!
Chef Works: When you talk about cooking for the person’s soul, you must be very present with the person who you’re cooking for. You must really understand them from a different level of what it is that they need.
SW: When I hug you, I kind of figure out what you’ve got. I get put to a test. Like, I get to talking, and I see what you grew up on. I don’t care how big you are. You’ll never outdo your home-style cooking.
Chef Works: What’s your favorite meal?
SW: I like to do soul food with a twist. I was just in Miami, and when I go up north to New York, they don’t know about hot water cornbread. Hot water cornbread is just basically hot water boiling and they add it to the cornmeal, and you fry it up. Well, I like doing a pan-seared scallop with a brown-butter pine nut sauce and put that right on top of my cornbread. I like to bring my childhood food to wherever I go, so it makes me remember where I come from and don’t ever forget it.
Chef Works: Can you tell me more about your career? Did you go into formal training or were learning on the job?
SW: I went to culinary school. Well… I got myself into trouble when I was a youngster. And my teacher’s name was Ms. Owens — she was a white lady, and she changed my life. The route I was going, I was going to wind up in jail or prison.
She asked me to try out cooking and I just enjoyed it. Like, really. That’s the only way I could calm down. That’s the only way I could be happy. That was my happy zone.
And I just ran with it. Then, I made some fried chicken. I just put herbs in it. And I won my first scholarship, and it was to Johnson and Wales. And I was like, “Wow, I won by cooking fried chicken like I do at home.” The rest is history!
Chef Works: That’s so remarkable that a teacher changed your life in that way! You recently shared a video of you giving a Chef Works uniform to a little boy and it’s apparent that you’re being that inspiration for someone else!
SW: Let me tell you something. That’s the reason why I’m at this shop recording this interview with you, because this is the place where I gave that Chef Works uniform to that little boy, and it really opened my eyes. If he’s watching me – if this six-year-old is watching me – look how many more kids are watching me. And they’re willing to learn! It made me want to pursue helping inner-city kids with learning how to cook.
Where I’m from, the kids have to walk through three different gang areas to go to school. And you know, they get pressured into becoming gang members or they believe that the only other options are to become a rapper or an athlete, and I’m none of them. To be able to change kids’ lives — it just made me realize my purpose. I want to start teaching kids. Because that little boy changed my life.
Chef Works: How did you get on Hell’s Kitchen?
SW: Believe it or not, I didn’t even sign up. I was working at this place called The Slider House, and the people I worked with were like, “We signed you up to go on Hell’s Kitchen,” and I was like, “What? Why would y’all do that?”
They actually had a bet to see how long it would take Gordon Ramsay to get upset with me. And I was like, “It ain’t gon’ happen, man.” And it didn’t happen. He didn’t cuss me out. He never cursed at me. Even though I was offered a job with Gordon Ramsay, I turned it down because I know my purpose. My purpose is to show these kids in the inner city because they don’t have males to look up to. I get to show them I’m a married man, a man of God, and I ain’t rapping, I’m not a gang member, and I’m not an athlete. And I’m doing it with a smile.
Chef Works: What do your family members think of your success?
SW: The money I’ve earned, I put it in my neighborhood. We’ve started our own football league where kids are playing football away from the projects. I hear them say, “Thank you for getting us and keeping us safe.” For at least those two hours, they have a safe zone. To be a part of that is just the biggest blessing I can ever thank God for.
Chef Works: Please tell us more about what you’re doing for inner-city youth?
SW: It’s a food desert. There are no grocery stores around this area that I mentor in. I got together with some guys – everything I do, I do with a bunch of men – ‘cause you don’t hear men getting credit anymore, and we started planting produce in the pots for the elderly and the young so that they can grow their own produce in their backyard. It’s all fast food around them.
Chef Works: Do you have a name for the project that you’re working on?
SW: I just do it straight from the heart. If I do anything, the name of my company would be “Straight From the Heart”, ‘cause that’s the only way I would do it.
Chef Works: Is there anything you want other chefs to know?
SW: Someone is always looking at them. You never know who’s watching. I didn’t know that six-year-old was watching. You never know who’s watching, and you have to watch what you do in front of them. They are learning. Even though they might have their dads, their uncles, you’ll probably be the one that can teach them something that they can’t get at home.
Chef Works: It’s wonderful how you’re empowering men to show up in this way to share and teach.
SW: That’s why I’m at this barbershop right now – you know how many kids got to get their hair cut – that’s a way a young man can be a young man. Because he’s around all men, and he gets to hear men talk. Look what the kid’s observing when they get around the men. My hat’s off [takes cap off] to a lot of women. There’s a lot of women that are doing it by themselves. When these boys come to a barbershop, they actually get to see what a man is like.
Want to be featured? Email email@example.com