The champion talks about food as therapy and art, for life and love.
If you’ve watched the show “Chopped” on Food Network, the name Roshara Sanders is one you most likely remember. The decorated U.S. Army veteran won the “Chopped: Military Vets” edition of the popular television show in 2015 and shot to fame overnight. Since then, the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) graduate alumna has garnered several other accolades including 2018 Forbes Overachiever Under Thirty and NBC Top 28 African American Entrepreneurs in the Nation. Last November she was invited to the prestigious James Beard House in New York City to present a dinner in honor of Veterans Day.
Sanders has taken on her role as a culinary expert and global chef, veteran success story, and overall humanitarian with gusto. One of her recent celebrity ambassadorships with leading global nonprofit Habitat for Humanity placed the Connecticut resident in Atlanta, GA to launch, “Home Cooking with Love,” which marks a 20-year partnership between Habitat and Whirlpool Corporation, the world’s leading major home appliance company. Sanders created two original delicious and healthy recipes full of flavor, spice and love that Habitat homeowners can enjoy making with their Whirlpool appliances without breaking the budget.
When Life Comes Full Circle
This association holds special meaning for Sanders, who was raised by her single mother in a Habitat home and cooked her first meals as a child on a Whirlpool range. “I’m living proof of what happens when two corporations come together to do good. My mom was a single parent and she worked three jobs, all in the food industry. Cooking has been a part of my life since I can remember,” says Sanders. “Now cooking is an art for me.”
Having served in the Army for six years with stints in Iraq and Afghanistan, Sanders shares that she could easily translate her experience from the field to the food world. “In the military, you have to be at the right place at the right time in the right uniform and it’s the same in the kitchen. The military is very aggressive and not friendly to women. Unfortunately, the kitchen industry is the same way. I am going to be very blunt about that,” she says. “The military trained me to have thick skin, and it taught me how to be organized. And then you have hierarchy in the kitchen. You’ve got to respect the top and it trickles all the way to the bottom, it’s the same as the military.”
Doing Good Where it Matters
Using her culinary skills for a greater good has always been Sanders’ goal and she has parlayed her success well into other efforts with a larger reach. She created a research and development consulting company to help businesses understand everything from what’s sustainable or not to what’s in their preservatives and other related topics. She adds, “My day to day is helping other people open up establishments and be on the right track of the food system, changing it and making it sustainable and affordable.” With regards to sustainability she says, “As chefs, we need to help speak out on what we want in our communities, educating people on opening up more farmers’ markets and supporting the farmers because without them there is nothing.”
As a James Beard affiliated chef, Sanders doesn’t take her efforts lightly when it comes to the food wastage crisis in America. “Every James Beard affiliated chef is 100 percent working on the food waste crisis. My interest is in education,” she shares. “I think people don’t know how bad the crisis is and if they do know, then they don’t know how to help and reach out or compost or recycle. I go to restaurants, I do research and development, I sit with owners and ask how can you be better for communities around you.”
How Food Influences Her Journey
Sanders stresses on the fact that food factors heavily in her success thus far. “Food saved my life. When I was in the Army and up for re-enlistment, I was advised to do my ten years and retire,” she explains. “But because of the GI Bill, I earned a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts.” She calls food her therapy, given how well she has fared since getting out of the Army in 2012. “Being a war veteran suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, to be in the kitchen surrounding myself with what I love and to share that with other veterans is all I want to do. I work with veterans through some nonprofits but when time permits, I am open to working with other organizations, maybe Wounded Warrior, because there is no exclusivity when it comes to changing the world.”
Sanders has her eyes on opening a place as well and is working on her business plan to have a brick-and-mortar location soon. Though too early to disclose any details, she is sure that any efforts she undertakes will have social impact. “I want to hire veterans, women/men who have been through domestic violence. Whatever I do will be social impact driven and the rest will follow. Lead by example is the best way to do it. I am partnering with more organizations that believe in what I believe in. We are still brainstorming and collaborating but keep an eye out because the work is not done.”
Follow Chef Ro on Instagram for the latest updates or on her website on www.rosharasanders.com.