A conversation with Keshia Hay


    Meredith Hobbs spoke with Keshia Hay about operating a blowtorch, associating flavor with sound, why her style can’t be put in a box and advocating for women in the culinary sphere.

    I guess it’s all elemental, too: wispy, airy, the smell of sugar along with the taste. And I would think the taste of something bitter is like a harsh music note.


    Meredith Hobbs Coons

    Which early cooking experience informed you most as a budding chef?

    Keshia Hay

    The one that always comes to my mind was when we would cook at your house when we were younger. We were rummaging through your cabinets, trying to figure out something to make, and we decided to make pizza. We didn’t have the pizza dough and we didn’t have pre-made sauce, so we just kind of came up with something on our own. So, we grabbed flour tortillas, the little can of tomato paste, a bunch of random spices, and then you had cheese and everything in the fridge. I think we warmed the flour tortilla first? And then we made the sauce by just adding seasonings by smell. We had no clue as to what it was going to taste like; we were just like, “Oh! This smells good together!” I literally cook like that now, and it’s just been ingrained in my brain: if it smells right together, more than likely it’s going to taste right.


    Do you associate any flavors with colors? Sounds?

    I think for something spicy, obviously the color red or orange, I’d think the sound would be kind of like a crackle or a pop. I would think the texture of sweet is very silky. It’s warm, it’s brown, it’s blue. And any time I’m cooking with flowers, with lavender or rose specifically, I always associate the flavor with the taste of cream. I guess it’s all elemental, too: wispy, airy, the smell of sugar along with the taste. And then I would think the taste of something bitter, in a good way, is maybe like a really harsh music note, but it’s satisfying at the same time. Bitter and sour: they kind of make you do this face, but you don’t want to stop eating it.


    What is your go-to kitchen tool?

    Other than my new knife, a Mikado, I guess I would say my microplane zester or my blowtorch. I’m using those in different fashions, but I’m always reaching to them as second nature.

    I love experimenting with different styles of cuisine, but I also research it. I want to understand more about the culture and their developments of flavors and respect what they do.


    Anthony Bourdain, a hero of yours, advised that people “walk in someone else’s shoes or at least try their food.” Do you think cooking can be a vehicle for social justice, or at least a means of building empathy?

    Absolutely. Honestly, if you think about it, all the different food styles — whether it’s in cooking techniques, spices, ingredients and things — they all have common denominators. We all start with the same bases, and we have things that make us different, but that doesn’t mean that we’re so different that we don’t go together, can’t play along together. There’s this book called Salt Fat Acid Heat, and the author, Samin Nosrat, explains that those same bases are found in all cultures, essentially — whether it’s in Italian cooking, French cooking, African cooking. There’s a reason why in Indian culture they use certain techniques; it’s maybe religious or spiritual. So, when you’re eating someone else’s food, you’re not just eating their food, you’re taking in their experience and their history and their culture.

    I think that experiencing someone else’s food and coming out of your bubble is humbling. It’s humbling to feed someone, and then to take that in, you’re taking in a part of their soul, too. And I think that’s why, for me personally, I love experimenting with different styles of cuisine, but I also research it. I want to understand more about the culture and the developments of flavors and things and respect what they do. That’s another thing: respecting the food, respecting the cooking, respecting the origins behind it, and not trying to change it, but to appreciate it.


    You have teamed with many creative women in Nashville to bring your vision for Sip N Bite, your personal chef business, to fruition. How have those bonds made things possible for you that may have otherwise remained beyond reach?

    Working with other women partnering with Sip N Bite has definitely brought me more exposure and gotten me just a little bit out of my comfort zone.

    One of the girls that I met through my women’s group actually made it possible for me to be on the Today In Nashville show. Had I not gone to this group, had I not talked to these women, it would not have put me there in that space. But it was good for me, because it was good for the brand and it was challenging me.

    And also, working for other women within their own businesses has taught me the good and the bad of running a business without necessarily being on my own dime.

    It also brings support. It just shows me that they support what it is that I’m doing, they understand it, and they want to be a part of it while it’s growing. I’m always advocating very strongly for other businesses, and especially women in business, women supporting themselves, and so I hope to get that back in return, too.


    What do you admire most about the other creatives in your sphere?

    I admire the fact that other creatives in my sphere have the tenacity and the balls to say, “Hey, this is who I am, this is how I’m presenting myself, and on top of that, I’m going to also try to make a living!” It’s like I’m going to take the leap of faith, and I know that this might be crazy, but it makes me feel good, it makes me happy, and it makes other people happy, and at the end of the day, I’m always getting to do something new. I love that I have other people in my circle that understand that from me, and I understand that from them, and we can be talking gibberish all over the place, but we get each other.

    I have a lot of ideas and I think, sometimes, faster than I can write, so my writing tries to catch up. Maybe it just tells me I’m a little bit of a crazy person.


    Which skills from your fashion design journey also apply to your culinary career?

    Definitely the fine details. I remember hand-beading a dress for the first time. I had no clue what the hell I was doing. I just picked it up and did it, and the amount of attention to detail — making sure that every pleat was correct before I sewed it or ironed it down, pressing it, looking at it, the design of it. I definitely take those elements and put that into my food, because I do look at it as an art form. I want them to understand that it’s not just about the preparation, but the presentation and the end result. Same thing with fashion.

    I’ll say, too, understanding where my materials come from and how to work with them, not forcing them to do something that they can’t, but still having fun playing around — it’s the same thing with food. It’s very important to me that I know where my ingredients come from, and then taking those ingredients and enhancing them or putting them together in a dish that maybe would not have been cooked like that in a traditional sense, but I’m still able to play around with it and then appreciate the outcome. And the only difference between the fashion and the food is the fact that I get to eat the art instead of wear the art!


    What was the worst business-related advice anyone has ever given you?

    Well, I don’t know if I’ve had the worst yet. Some business advice that more or less frustrated me, or perturbed me, was them trying to put my style in a box to make it more convenient for others, whether it was financially or the actual services that I would perform. I was trying to explain to someone who was trying to help me with business stuff: I am a private chef. I’m not a caterer. I’m not trying to feed the masses in a sense where I have to pump out all this food. I have these goals, and I’ve kind of outlined them in a business plan, and she was just like, “Well do you not want to get big? Do you not want to grow?” and I’m like “Well, what do you mean?”

    For me, growth is obviously fine-tuning my craft and yes, growing my business — not to where I’m in 5,000 places at once, but one day, I want to feed Oprah. That, to me, is big! I’m not trying to meal prep for 20 families, just kind of basic, whatever food. I want to bring an experience to people, and not everybody appreciates that, can afford it, or wants it. So obviously I’ve understood that I’m putting myself in a very fine niche, but I know that there’s a demand for it, and so to me, that success would mean that I’ve hosted x amount of supper clubs, or been able to cook in the finest homes, and then getting to travel. But not like having 20 people in my company. I don’t want that.

    So she kind of understood it, but it still wasn’t resonating with her. It wasn’t the worst advice, but it was definitely an interesting conversation, because it helped me to narrow down my perspective on what I want to do with my business. It made me actually focus in on the answer.


    What does your penmanship tell you about yourself?

    That I write like chicken scratch! Chicken scratch handwriting. It’s horrible. It always has been. Unless I’m like really, really sitting down, focused, trying to concentrate, or I have a really great pen. It’s all about the tools sometimes. I guess it says that I have a lot of ideas and I think, sometimes, faster than I can write, so my writing tries to catch up. Maybe it just tells me I’m a little bit of a crazy person.


    When you were in fourth grade, what were your dreams for the future?

    I wanted to be an ice skater and an artist. I knew I was going to grow up to be an artist, and somewhere in there I thought I was going to be some gymnast, too. Gymnast or ice skater. One of the two. Something physical.


    What are your present goals?

    Other than succeeding in my private chefdom, getting married and starting a family. Being able to invite people into my home and entertain, being able to travel outside of the United States again, go to different countries — and eat.

    Thank you.


    Conversation: 224
    Curated by: Meredith Hobbs
    Conducted by: Phone
    Edited by: Morgan Enos
    Published: September 4, 2018
    Total questions: 11
    Word count: 1751
    Reading time: Six minutes
    Hyperlinks: 2


    Will: Yes
    Sphere: Accessed
    Detail: Accessed
    Enhancement: Accessed
    Specialization: Accessed
    Tenacity: Yes


    About the subject

    Keshia Hay is a chef who operates Sip N Bite, a private chef service that specializes in cocktail parties. She resides in Nashville, Tennessee.

    About the curator

    Meredith Hobbs writes and records music as Lamb’s Ear. She holds a BA in Creative Writing and an MS in something else. She works and parents in California.


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