08 Feb Inspired by the Love of Food
Vernetta Stewart grew up surrounded by good food. She remembers her mother, Rosetta, making flavorful chicken and rice, Salisbury steak with gravy, and shrimp fried rice. Working in a kitchen at the same job for 43 years, Rosetta expressed her love by sharing her passion for cooking with her daughter. Even so, Stewart never imagined she would follow her mother’s footsteps.
For the first twelve years of Stewart’s career, she worked in finance. Inspired by the love of food, she left banking and enrolled in culinary school at Florida State College at Jacksonville on a whim. “I was enrolled in 30 minutes! I didn’t even know I was serious until I enrolled,” laughed Stewart. Stewart learned to cook at an early age, but she knew culinary school could help her hone her craft.
Before Stewart started in the culinary industry, she did not know many African American chefs, however, she learned about them in culinary school and began to see more African American chefs throughout her experience at high-end resorts such as Omni Amelia Island Resort and Ponte Vedra Inn & Club.
According to a July 2020 study released by Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, a nonprofit advocacy group for restaurant workers’ rights, racial and gender biases compound to make it especially hard for Black women to attain leadership roles in the culinary industry.
When asked how you think the culinary industry can be more supportive of black female chefs, Stewart shared “I think the culinary industry can be supportive of African American women, and all women, by offering opportunities, training, and supportive listening. There are women who love to prepare pastries and some women who love to get behind the grill and cook a 36-ounce steak. I think the assumption may be that women want to bake or prepare cold foods, but that is not always the case. If there is a woman who wants to learn the grill, master the sauté station, or become the Executive Chef in the kitchen, her employer can be supportive by taking time to train her and provide her an opportunity to advance in her career.”
A regular volunteer with Feeding Northeast Florida, Stewart has worked to end hunger through participating in food distributions and community programs. She is now the Chef and Culinary Director at The Ronald McDonald House, where she oversees the nutrition program and prepares meals for families while their children receive medical care at local children’s hospitals.
Stewart launched A Cook for You, a catering and personal chef business that specializes in customer service through a personalized and extensive menu. As her business grew, Stewart realized she wanted to leave a meaningful impact on the community she served. She began seeking out organizations with food programs that provide help for people experiencing homelessness, supporting single mothers, and families enduring challenging moments. “I wanted to give back to those in need,” explained Stewart.
Stewart’s motto is Inspired by the Love of Food. “Food is love and I want to share that love, not only with people having special occasions, but with those who are going through a tough time. I just want to cook tasty food and build meaning relationships,” Stewart shared. “When I look at my mom, although [cooking is] what she did, she was never given the title of Chef. She didn’t get the opportunity to go to school for it,” shared Stewart. “I feel like what I do is important because I represent her, and I make her proud.”
Stewart’s servant leadership continues to inspire our community. For updates on Chef Stewart please visit her website, www.chefvernetta.com, and social media @ChefVernetta. If you are interested in volunteering at Ronald McDonald House Jacksonville in the Meal Makers Program, email Stewart at [email protected].