Elite Spotlight: Kelsey Shade (Chef Kelsey Shade)
After being furloughed from her restaurant gig, Chef Kelsey Shade put down the puzzles and picked up her phone to post chef tips on Tik Tok. With two culinary degrees and a passion for teaching, she’s created a robust following through focusing on the fundamentals of cooking. But there’s nothing simple about this young chef. She sat down with Dalstrong to talk about her philosophies, her inspirations, her opinions — and why no one should discount her expertise because of her age.
What inspired you to start sharing cooking tips on social media?
I love being in front of people. I used to be really shy, then something shifted and I wanted to be the center of attention. Going through culinary school, I always wanted to share on social media, but I never really did it because I didn’t have time. I was working three jobs, plus school work.
Then I graduated and started working for Marriott 50-60 hours a week. But then during quarantine because of COVID-19, I got furloughed. I really enjoyed the time off, making stuff, doing puzzles, killing time. I joined a mentorship program for how to create a nomadic lifestyle, work remotely, and travel.
I wanted to travel so badly, see the world, but you can’t do that with a restaurant job. I jumped into the program at the beginning of May. My mentor’s background is in marketing, and she helped create the idea to start a social following. I posted the first video on May 7 and it blew up to 2 million views in about one week. I went from 200 followers to over 100K in two weeks.
Why do you think you were so successful so fast?
The biggest thing for me was trying to be different. There are many cooking channels. I realized they were mostly recipes or just showing off what they can do, rather than teaching people. I saw an opportunity to teach. Most people make super elaborate dishes, and it’s very entertaining.
What about the home cook who thinks “I could never do that”? Or the recipes just go too quickly, and they can’t keep up. I have experience working for families, and they don’t have the time or skills. I don’t want people to think “I could never cook because it’s too hard or difficult or a chore.”
For me, I just wanted to teach some skills that would be helpful for when they see those recipe videos and wonder why they don’t get the same results. I teach fundamental skills. I break things down and do them more slowly. I only have 60 seconds, but I focus on one thing.
You mentioned culinary school, have you always wanted to be a chef?
I’ve always wanted to be a chef. Started cooking at five-years-old. My great grandmother was my main inspiration, she was an amazing cook. I was obsessed with the Food Network, and Emril’s There’s a Chef in my World cookbook. When I was 11 I knew I wanted to go to culinary school. I visited the Culinary Institute of America at 12. I was obsessed.
I entered their Journey for Juniors program for high school juniors, and as soon as I walked onto the New York campus I just knew. I moved to New York two weeks after graduating from high school. I never looked back. My family has always been so encouraging. I have a culinary arts associate’s degree and culinary science bachelor’s degree.
What are your guiding philosophies about cooking?
It’s best to make it your own, to not feel trapped by a recipe. People ask me how I decide on seasonings. I say if you like the taste, you’ll like it on what you put it on. Certain flavors are better paired than others, but there are very few rules. Figure out what works best for you. Just because a person or a recipe says to do it a certain way, so what. Alter taste, ingredients, etc. Go with the flow.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, there aren’t wrong answers. Chefs say all the time “Chefs don’t make mistakes, they make new dishes'' (Unless something is burnt!) Imagine how boring or limited food would be if no one ever broke the rules or tried new things. Pasta actually originated in China but then italians adapted it. Can you imagine Italy without pasta?
I got a lot of flack for using walnuts and blanching my basil for pesto. No pine nuts, no mortar and pestle — because good pine nuts are expensive and most people don’t have a mortar and pestle. Just try it!
What’s the mark of a great chef?
When you can create food and dishes and you get in the creative mindset, and you can envision different ingredients together. That’s when you go from cook to chef. Cooks follow recipes, chefs create new dishes, innovate. It’s individual, some people feel like it’s years of experience.
For me, I don't have a long background in restaurants, but I’ve been cooking since I was five. I never use recipes anymore. I understand flavor development and how things go together. And I’m always learning! I continue to gain more food knowledge, watching chefs, talking to people, sharing ideas, looking at their menus. No chef is ever done, you should always be learning. There are people who would say I’m too young to be a chef, but I disagree.
Favorite new recipe or go-to, “never fail” recipe?
Fresh pasta has been something I've made since I was six. So I can do it without thinking about it.
Do you have a favorite cooking hack?
The power of baking soda. I learned that when I was in Italy, not in culinary school. Putting it in water with basil, a pinch of it in fresh tomato sauce, it balances out acidity. I wash veggies and citrus with it. It’s the answer for everything.
Is there a spice or ingredient you secretly hate?
Lemon pepper. That came up on my Live yesterday. I like lemon and pepper, but not the lemon pepper seasoning. It smells like Pine Sol to me.
Who are your cooking heroes?
My great grandmother. She was so encouraging of me doing whatever I wanted. She died when I was 15. She taught me things when I was really young. All my cousins were always at her house doing other things, but I was always in the kitchen.
I watched her and the way she taught me about food, putting love into the food, what you were doing was for your family and people who you cared about. That was a big deal. I thought she had Mary Poppins in her fridge! She had nothing in there and yet could make a full, amazing meal. As I grew up, it just came naturally and I was always fascinated by it. My great grandmother kept teaching me family recipes for years.
If you could cook a meal for one person (not a friend or family member) who would it be?
Maybe Giada, but I’ve kind of built her up so much and I wouldn’t want to ruin it.
I’m a huge fan of the Bachelor and Bachelorette. I met Kaitlyn Bristow from The Bachelorette once. She has a wine label and sells scrunchies and just released her own music. I met her at a skincare meet and greet, which was at 1pm so I went into work at 5am that day so I could make it.
I even got in trouble for leaving early, but it was worth it. She’s so nice and wonderful, and her boyfriend is, too. I’d love to cook for them and their dogs and I genuinely want to be their friends. They’re very foodie people so it would be so fun to have a dinner with them.
What’s the dish that everyone screws up?
There are many little things but one that I see so often is pasta. People just don’t make it as best they could. It could be so much better. Don’t rinse it, it removes all the starch which the sauce needs to bind to the pasta! Or they put oil in the water, which is not needed, and it sticks to the pasta which also keeps the sauce from really binding to the pasta.
People overcook it all the time, and then it’s so mushy. Also I can’t stand when people say they like wings and then order boneless. I’m like “you don’t like wings, you like glorified chicken nuggets!” Call them something else. And red velvet cake pisses me off. Red velvet is not a flavor, it’s a color. Do you know how much dye is in it? What you’re tasting is the dye! Originally it was a red-tinged chocolate that inspired it. But it was chocolate. Now it’s chocolate cake with an obscene amount of red food coloring.
Is there a kitchen tool you can’t live without?
I really like my Shogun Series 8” Chef Knife. Honestly it’s the main tool everyone needs. You need a really good chef knife. Invest in the best one you can afford. You can do everything with it. That’s why it’s called a “chef’s” knife. Everyone has their own knives that they take with them.
They don’t share knives. That's how much it matters. It's very personal — the handle, how heavy, the size, and shape. It’s an all-purpose knife. Chop, slice, dice, cut open bags. You could break down meat or fish if you have to. You really only need a chef knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. If you want to branch out later, you can. These are the must-have basics.
What would your last meal be?
When I was in Italy, we answered this question once and it was an entire day of eating. The last thing I would want to eat is this coconut cake from a place called Rusty Bellies in Tarpon Springs, FL. It is the best thing I’ve ever had in my life. It tops everything I’ve ever had, all desserts, all dishes, all meals. I took the first bite and cried.
I love coconut, but it wasn’t overwhelming. Light and fluffy and moist, the icing was a whipped cream, which was so light and airy. Real coconut (not any extract, which is overpowering). It was the perfection of a baby angel in a cake. You have to order ahead because it’s always sold out.
Stay Up To Date With Chef Kelsey
You can follow Chef Kelsey’s journey @chefkelseyshade on Instagram, Tik Tok, and YouTube.
Written by Abby Slate
Born and raised in the South, Abby lives by three things: bacon goes in everything, all food can (and should) be deep fried, and hush puppies are religion.