The youngest of three children and a mother of four, chef Toya Boudy was born and raised in one of the most celebrated culinary cities in the nation: New Orleans. Known for its unique Southern flavor and Mardi Gras vibrations, NOLA (abbreviated from New Orleans, Louisiana) is home to this beautifully spiritual professional foodie. Boudy, born to a Jamaican father and a Creole mother, both natives who identify as African American, is a balanced mix of culture and loyalty. So how did she go from being a daughter of New Orleans to a top competitor on season 13 of “Food Network Star?” We have the answer.
The Great Return
Boudy's interest in cooking occurred organically when she was a child. The first dish she made was French fries when she was nine years old. No one taught her how to cook. Culinary art came naturally, but she didn’t take it seriously. She grew to achieve fame from another area of the arts: poetry. She was known for her play on words and yet to be discovered for her flavor on food.
Boudy’s love for New Orleans runs deep. So deep that she returned to the city two years after being displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. When asked why she came back, she simply says, “It’s special. The people are rough but humble. They stick to tradition, but with innovation.” It all makes sense. Special, yet humble, Boudy definitely thinks outside the box. She’s also very spiritual. “God lives inside you. He knows the past, present and future. That’s why it’s important to listen,” she says. And that's precisely what she did. She listened and eventually found her way back to her natural gift of cooking.
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Answering the Call
Just like the resilient people in New Orleans, Boudy is no quitter. From getting married and having kids to earning her degree in the culinary arts, Boudy managed to do all of this and start her career as a chef. Now Boudy, a seven-year veteran in the culinary world, adds a list of accomplishments to her name including being crowned the Best Home Cook by Hallmark’s Home and Family channel, being named one of Louisiana’s Best Chefs in 2018 and 2019 and being featured on the popular Food Network television show, “Guy’s Grocery Games.”
Boudy has learned many valuable lessons from being in the culinary limelight. “I learned a lot about the entertainment business really fast,” she shares. “I learned what I wanted and didn’t want for my show.” Yes, that’s correct. Boudy is working on having her own show.
While Boudy moves forward and puts energy into launching her show, she continues to hold her head high and wear the hats of a cookbook author, personal chef and cooking instructor. Her cookbook, “Cook Like a New Orleanian,” is a collection of 20 classic New Orleans-style recipes with a Chef Toya twist. She also continues to use her culinary skills to empower others by teaching them how to cook. “I can make people who know nothing about cooking understand it,” Boudy says.
Balancing home, kids and career is an effort Boudy has mastered. Even though it takes hard work and determination, does it also take a stroke of luck for a Black chef to achieve this level of success and recognition? She doesn't think so. “We all have the same opportunities,” Boudy shares. She continues to explain that it's not that opportunities aren’t available, but more about the ability to identify your specific niche or how to get identified in a way that benefits you. “I’m not better than you. I’m walking in my personal excellence, gifts and purpose. You can’t always be the victim.” This leads me to believe the problem isn’t that Black chefs in New Orleans don’t get recognition; it's the lack of people knowing how to get recognized.
This moment in time is far from a nine-year-old making French fries in her parents’ kitchen. You can look back and almost pinpoint the moments in your history you’d either change or do differently. This interview was conducted just two days after losing Kobe Bryant in a tragic helicopter crash in January. It's moments like this that cause us to pause and reflect on our lives. I asked Boudy what advice would she give to her younger self. “I would tell her she's on to something and I would give her compliments,” she says. Then I asked, “If tomorrow was your last day on Earth, what would you want to be remembered most for?” “I want to be remembered for my love for God. Not just the concept, but to embrace the idea of forgiveness of yourself and having unconditional love for people from all walks of life.”
It was at this moment I realized the keys to success: have confidence, have faith, forgive yourself and enjoy the process.