Interview with 2013 Philadelphia Rising Star Artisan Davina Soondrum

February 2013

Caroline Hatchett: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Davina Soondrum: Honestly, my love of food comes from watching "Willy Wonka." Lots of my cooking inspiration came from Mom and Dad—they came from different backgrounds. My father was a cartographer on contract in the West Indies. He took aerial photos of underdeveloped lands. My mother was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. That’s where they met. My father was born off the coast of Madagascar, and he went to school in London and learned how to cook.

CH: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?

I feel like school is not for everyone, but if you have the drive, you put in as much as you want out of it. I had my fair share of good, bad, and incredibly weird experiences in culinary school. It was the real world experience that was a big draw for me. The Art Institute [of Philadelphia] found us two working internships.

CH: Who are your mentors and what have you learned from them?
DS: In school, I didn’t have a lot of confidence. Professor Patrick Coue taught me art history and French classical cuisine. He was so sweet and gentle. He would keep me after class, and we would talk about what it meant to cook and entertain and reach people. He was the one who kept me willing to stay in school. Randall Hauffman teaches hotel and hospitality management [at the Philadelphia Restaurant School]. To me, she’s the most inspiring woman in industry. She’s willing to teach and has so much knowledge, such an awesome attitude. And she never lets adversity get in her way.

CH: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
DS: Make as many mistakes as possible. Remember, you haven’t learned anything. Every day I make a mistake that I learn from. Sometimes they become my biggest sweet successes.

CH: Why do you love restaurants?
DS: Food is more than just nourishment for the body, it’s nurturing to the soul. Some of my best memories occurred in a restaurant, and it keeps me motivated to try to do the same for others. Food is a gateway to conversation, community, and artistic expression.

CH: What is your most important kitchen rule?
DS: Don’t take things too personally. We’re always learning and mistakes just open other doors for future success. No one should put themselves or others down for what they consider a mistake.

CH: What does success mean for you?
DS: If I could make at least one person happy or give someone a memorable experience, I’ve succeeded. That’s what sustained me through a lot of this. I want people to think back fondly when they think of something I’ve made for them.

CH: Where do you see yourself in five years?
DS: I see myself in a teaching kitchen, bringing more people in and viewing the culinary world in a different light. I don’t work in the most conventional field. I would love to share that with people. I would love to teach children’s cooking classes, maybe go back to culinary school for a while, and have a restaurant of my own.