Last season of "The Next Food Network Star," the cable station’s answer to "Making the Band," justified the show as an acceptable guilty pleasure when Aaron McCargo, Jr., a young Black restaurateur from New Jersey, took home the title. So when we heard about Atlanta personal chef Jamika Pessoa, we had to speak with her about her experiences on the show.
Jamika insists that her time on the show was nothing but fun. We don’t know how long she remained in the competition, but there were a couple of instances that she hinted at a more long-term stay. The show pits ten would-be culinary stars against each other in a battle royale to be crowned the next Rachel Ray or Emeril Lagassee. Each week features a set of challenges designed to separate the cooks from the stars, but Jamika told us that, luckily, she had a bit of a head start. "Being on TV was not a complete shock," she said. "I’ve done local morning shows and I’d been in different magazines, so I was accustomed to being in front of cameras somewhat."
Jamika is of Caribbean descent, but was raised in Montgomery, Alabama, and therefore almost guaranteed to have a lifelong love of food. After college and a stint working in marketing, she decided to give up corporate America for a career in the kitchen.
"It was right after 9/11 and they started laying off and they wiped out my department," Jamika told us. "So I said why don’t I do what I always loved to do, which is cooking, so I ended up at the Art Institute of Atlanta and here we are now."
With culinary school behind her, she landed a plum position at The Ritz-Carlton in the swanky Atlanta neighborhood of Buckhead. Working her way up from an intern to second-in-command of the pantry kitchen, Jamika still wanted more. "I knew I always wanted to have my own business," she said.
Initializing what she called a leap of faith, she left the Ritz to build her personal chef business, starting with a few very famous clients, including R&B crooner Omarion and comedienne Mo’Nique. "When you’re in the right place at the right time, great things happen," she told us. Those great things have since led to feeding the bellies of NFL stars Alge Crumpler of the Tennessee Titans, Damian Wilkins of the Seattle Seahawks, author E. Lynn Harris and even our own Founder and Publisher, Jamie Foster Brown.
With a food pedigree like that, Jamika began to wonder why she wasn’t one of the hopefuls on the Food Network’s popular reality show: "[I thought] the prize is exactly what I want, you get to win your own show, and I’m watching other seasons and I’m like, ‘This is just something I would kick myself if I wait through another season and watch someone else win something that I know that I’m capable of doing.’"
On the show, which premieres Sunday, June 7, we’ll get to see Jamika’s stylish take on food. She told us, "I like to bring my style to my food, so just like I accessorize myself, I accessorize my food. Because you’re going to eat with your eyes first, so you want to be looking at something that looks just as good as it tastes." She also finds ways to blend all of her culinary influences, which include Caribbean, Southern and European, with dishes like her "play off of candied yams." A basic candied yam dish is infused with mango and coconut rum sauce for an island-fueled comfort food.
Judge for yourself and catch the show on Sundays at 9 p.m. EST on the Food Network.
— Whitney Teal