An entrepreneur since the age of 15, Chicago-based chef Cordell McGary II has always known the power of food. Whether it is to make money, someone happy or change lives, McGary knew it would always be a part of his life one way or another.
Going up on the South Side, McGary got his first taste of cooking helping with Thanksgiving dinner when he was 13. From there, he started Cordell’s Cookies and sold cookies and brownies to church members, neighbors and classmates. After high school, he moved to North Carolina and soon joined the military to pay for culinary school. After school, he worked in a variety of restaurants before returning to his entrepreneur roots and hometown.
Returning back to Chicago, he started to take notice of a shift in the neighborhood, not only in economic status but health. “Looking at my family and the neighborhood I grew up in, I saw that a lot of people were suffering from type 2 diabetes, obesity and hypertension and I felt that with eating proper foods a lot of that could be alleviated. I looked at some of the restaurants in my neighborhood at the time and they were all crappy fast foods and there weren’t a lot of quality grocery stores there so I decided to turn my attention once I started my own company to help people out, especially people of color who live in these neighborhoods which are referred to as food deserts,” says McGary.
Teaching the Basics
Eating Well with Chef Cordell was launched and through his company, McGary has helped thousands re-think what and how they eat food. From Whole Foods to NBA star Derrick Rose and consulting clients from schools to companies, McGary’s skills and knowledge are definitely in demand.
Serving individuals in a food desert is bigger than having access to fresh fruits and vegetables within a certain mile radius. It also involves education around nutrition and why healthier choices are encouraged in addition of course to making these choices affordable.
McGary is encouraged that a step in the right direction is taking place as Whole Foods plans to open a location in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood in the near future following its success in Detroit to place a store in a low-income community. The grocer also plans to open locations in similar neighborhoods in New Orleans and New Jersey. Until then, there is much work to be done and McGary, who is also a contributor for Jet magazine, is up to the challenge.
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“With the demographics I am dealing with right now, we just need to teach them the basics of what healthy eating is, how many fruits and vegetables we should have a day and what each one could do for your body especially in relation to some of the common diseases that affect people who live in these neighborhoods,” shares McGary.
In order for change to happen, McGary acknowledges that the first step is that one must be open to looking at food and how it is prepared in a different way as well as the nutritional benefits. This isn’t always easy. But once it happens, the door is opened for changing lives.
Small Changes, Big Flavors
Tips McGary shares with clients are constant reminders to all of us, no matter how knowledgeable we are about healthy eating. Try to stay away from adding refined sugars, use healthier preparation techniques such as sautéing, baking or broiling vs. frying, eliminate gravies and other heavy sauces loaded with salt and using ingredients such as garlic and herbs to enhance flavors. Like anything, making healthy choices is work with benefits that are sure to pay off in the long run.
Full of passion and purpose, this month McGary is also taking his efforts to help others through food to the streets with Soup Crew USA where he will work with volunteers and partner with a church to offer hot soups during the cold weather to those in need.