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3-course interview: Toya Boudy 

The New Orleans chef competes on Food Network Star

click to enlarge food_network_star_season_13_finalist_toya_boudy.jpg

Chef Toya Boudy (www.cheftoyaboudy.com) grew up in New Orleans and combined her interests in the performing arts and the culinary world to launch her YouTube Channel "Cooking with Toya Boudy." She also will compete on the reality TV competition Food Network Star, which premieres June 4 on Food Network. Boudy spoke with Gambit about her interest in cooking.

What inspired you to combine performing and culinary arts?

Boudy: I started cooking when I was a little girl, around the age of 8 or 9. I actually taught myself how to cook, so that was one of the driving forces for why my mother wanted me to go to culinary school, because she felt it was a gift. I honestly just rebelled against it. Both of my parents were born and raised Uptown and they're really great cooks. It was effortless, and so I thought everyone cooked. I thought, "That's not a gift — anyone can cook." So I happened to be really gifted in other art forms, like painting, poetry and acting, so I just kind of ran with that before really circling back to culinary school much later in life. At that time, I was more mature and more in tune to marry the world of theater and culinary arts.

  I (went to culinary school) at Nunez (Community College) in Chalmette. I studied culinary (arts) and theater there. They definitely thought it was an odd combination. The avenue for that was still developing; they had Julia Child and Rachael Ray, but it wasn't how it is now with the Food Network.

  After (graduating), I tried to take a stab at catering and found out I hated it. I applied for Hell's Kitchen, and I got all the way to the end of the process, and then right before the flights were arranged they notified me via text (message) that the producers had decided to go in a different direction. That kind of had me distraught. So I told my husband, Chris, "I want to create my own show, and I don't want to wait." So he went out for camera equipment and lighting equipment, and we turned my kitchen into a set. That's how "Cooking with Toya (Boudy)" was born.

What challenges did you encounter along the way?

B: I was a troubled teen. Not only was I constantly in trouble at school with discipline issues, but I had my daughter at 16. They didn't have (places like Cafe Reconcile) on the West Bank. On the east bank of New Orleans, it was like a melting pot for the arts. They had (New Orleans Center for Creative Arts), they had everything. We didn't have that unless you were getting bussed. My parents worked two jobs, so who had time to get over to the east bank? They were working hard to keep us on the West Bank, which seemed to be safer.

  I think it's a classic situation where (troubled youth) are not seeing (success) that often, so they don't think it's going to happen. There are places like Cafe Reconcile that are now working with those troubled teens. But a lot of it is back staff kitchen work. It's not really teaching them how to be more than a worker.

  I made sure I got polished. There are theater classes, there are speech (classes), there are a bunch of things wrapped up in this. You're not just jumping on television. I really want people to know that they can have it too.

  I plan on changing the game. One of the things I plan to do with my fame as I gain it is geared towards minority youth to get them to positions where they want to own (a business) and not just work.

Did your life experiences give you any advantages on the show?

B: I have this ability to make something out of nothing, and only struggling in life can teach you that. I'm good with quick turns and movements — I can adapt quickly to situations. I can (adjust) to anything that happens.

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