Military child turned personal chef and caterer Meika Johnson, known by most as Chef Mimi J, has drawn from all the experiences from her eclectic upbringing to become an expert chef with the ability to cook delicious creations that range from Creole, Italian, Mediterranean, German and good ole’ feel-good Southern cooking.
“I’ve always loved to cook,” Johnson says. “My grandmother was from Louisiana on one side and on the other side, my grandmother was from East Texas, so I come from a background of food. On one side, you have the gumbo and then on the other side, you have fried chicken, greens and something smothered. So food was always the center point of just everything on both sides of my family.”
Johnson currently resides in Dallas but was born in Houston, Texas. Growing up in a military family, travel was routine, allowing her to expand her palate by trying different foods.
“My sister was born in Belgium. We lived in Germany for six years, then in various parts of the United States, and that right there, I think, attributed to my passion for different cuisines. I never want to be stuck in a box. I’m really good at Creole. I’m really good at Southern comfort food and things of that nature, but I also know how to cook Italian, Mediterranean and all different types of food. And I attribute that, especially German food, to my travels as a kid. This global exposure helped shape my unique culinary perspective.”
Bye-Bye Corporate America
Prior to the wonderful world of cuisine, Johnson had a secure career as a global account coordinator for a major company, but food was her calling. She consistently cooked on the side for friends and family. Then teamed up with a local chef and cooked for events which continued to fuel her passion. Johnson says, “Back in 2015 was when I finally took that leap of faith. It actually would have been ten years in May with the company and I left in March,” she shares.
“Some investors gave me the confidence, the strength, and the little push I needed to take that leap of faith. They wanted me to help open up their restaurant concept and from there, I decided I wasn’t going back to the corporate world. I was going to explore my culinary options and with family support, hard work and dedication, I was able to take that journey.”
Johnson continues, “My corporate jobs were a blanket of comfort. It gave me stability, 401K, health insurance and a paycheck every two weeks. I was comfortable but unfulfilled. There are many others who feel this way, stuck in an unfulfilling job, and I want to share my journey of transition in my first book. It’s not only a cookbook, but it’s a journey, stories and it’s my life.
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“Be on the lookout for ‘From the Cubicle to the Kitchen,’ with transitional recipes that will show the growth and development of my culinary career as well as my journey leaving the cubicle and transitioning to an entrepreneur.”
Business is Booming
Now charting her own path in the culinary industry, she says, “After that project with the restaurant grew, I worked for many different culinary catering companies, many different chefs. I worked in different restaurants on the line, private schools, staffing agencies and hospitals. I tell you it has been a nomadic journey. I worked anywhere I could just so that I could learn and absorb information. Sometimes it was no pay, sometimes it was very little pay, but the reward came from just the knowledge that I acquired from each and every aspect of what I did.”
With the hard work paying off, she shares, “I officially launched my own LLC in 2017, and of course the pandemic was a big challenge for everyone, but other than that little hiccup, it has been amazing, and I say amazing because I know there are some people who have been in the culinary industry for a lot longer than I have, who are not as far as I have come and who haven’t been able to do as many things or be exposed to as many things as I have been. So, I don’t take any of that for granted.”
Traveling is still a big part of Chef Mimi J’s life, and it has led her to an extensive list of clients both far and wide. As a traveling chef, she has met and served many well-known and fascinating people.
“I have had the opportunity to take the show on the road. I’ve cooked for athletes and elite clients from Philadelphia to Florida to different parts of Texas. I just go wherever the work takes me pretty much, and it’s just been a culinary nomadic journey for me, I would say.”
Johnson is also a go-to name as a content creator. Her cooking videos have landed her deals with companies such as Sam’s Club, Dawn, Disney Music, Swift Meats and more.
When asked what advice she would give someone on a similar journey, Johnson says, “Consistently putting out your best work and that alone will get you the word of mouth that you need. If you’re eating at a good restaurant and the restaurant is phenomenal, you’re going to want to share that restaurant with your friends. However, if you go with high expectations to this restaurant and it wasn’t good, you’ll not going to ever talk about it again.”
She concludes by saying, “I don’t look at food as a job, I actually look at it as a form of art, so I want to make sure that I’m putting out beautiful work each and every time that I do it and I think that really does show and help me grow.”