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Stirring Up The Gift and Living In My Purpose:

Chef ZaZa

This year, 2020, caught the world by surprise with a global pandemic. The world shut-down, and the everyday movement of people and things were at a complete halt. The closure of businesses and schools caused many people to work or go to school remotely, and, unfortunately, some people lost their jobs. Many still reported to work but feared for their lives and the lives of their loved ones due to COVID-19.

As the days, weeks, and months passed, we started to adjust to the "new normal." Many of us used this time to get healthy with safe indoor and outdoor exercise activities and eat right. More importantly, we started focusing on our dreams and find ways to execute walking in our purpose.

One person who used these trying times to execute her passion for cooking is Nzali Scales, also known as Chef ZaZa. Chef ZaZa is the executive chef and founder of ZaZa's Kitchen. Her story of following her lifelong dream of becoming a Chef and using her love of cooking to unite communities worldwide is encouraging to anyone who ever had doubts about pursuing their passion. Chef ZaZa and ZaZa's Kitchen is quickly working toward becoming popular household names in homes all over the nation. Her virtual live cooking classes are instructional, fun, and energetic. She is truly a young woman on the rise, and her love and passion for food are going to place her name in places she has yet had an opportunity to explore, but she is well on her way. 

Dacia The Roving Journalist had the pleasure of having a conversation with Chef ZaZa, and she shared her story on the creation of her custom culinary business and the importance of following your passion and being real in your purpose.

 

 

 

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RJ:

 Let's begin by telling me a little about yourself. Where were you born and raised?

 

CZ:

I am a native of College Park, Georgia. So, I grew up right here in this house with my mom and dad. My parents are divorced. But growing up, I've always had a space to explore the arts, be involved in extracurricular activities in the schools and sports. And figure out what I love. I'm also a big sister to my younger brother Menra, and I have a bonus brother, B.C.

 

 

RJ:

 What are some of the things you did for fun growing up in College Park, Georgia?

 

CZ:

So, for fun, I played a lot of online games [laughs]. Also, I participated in activities at the College Park Recreation Center, so I did gymnastics and track. I tried a little of everything. I can't say I loved it all, but I tried it. I did double-dutch, and I danced. I did a lot of dance. I did the Alvin Ailey camp. And in the summer, my brother and I went to cooking camp, and that was fun. So, I did a lot of different things growing up.

 

RJ:

Did you attend college here in Atlanta? 

 

CZ:

Yes. I went away to boarding school for high school. After, I came back to Atlanta to attend Spelman College right down the street from where I live.  I never thought I'd go to Spelman. I knew I wanted to go to an HBCU while in high school, and I would often say I need to be back with my community, but I didn’t imagine it being in Atlanta.  So, my mother and aunt encouraged me to apply to Spelman, and I got in. After awarded a scholarship, I made up my mind to go to Spelman.

 

 RJ:

 What was your major at Spelman?

 

CZ:

I majored in Sociology and minored in Spanish.

 

 RJ:

Let's talk about ZaZa's Kitchen.

 

CZ:

Yes!

 

RJ:

Tell me how you came up with the idea for ZaZa's Kitchen?

 

CZ:

So, when I was younger, I always, always, always wanted to have a restaurant! That was my dream. Since I was eight years old, I wanted to own a restaurant. I have an interesting story with this because, you know, I had this dream for a long time, and when I was in high school, I remember telling a friend I wanted to be a chef, and he told me, you're too smart for that and don't do it. So, after that conversation, I thought to myself, you know, maybe he's right. Perhaps I shouldn't do that. And I buried it for a long time. While at Spelman, I got involved with research, and I just did many academic-type things. I mean, it's college, but I don't think I gave time to my passion outside of academics. 

Moving along in my junior year, I started cooking more for myself. And I always love to cook when I come home to this house (my mother’s house). So, ZaZa's Kitchen began the summer before Senior year. I was at a research program, and I had space and time to cook, so I said, you know, let me start sharing this with other people because many of my friends told me  I needed to start a page on my social media. At first, I said, Ummm…I don't think so. But after creating meals, I was like, all right, I will do it, I'll start sharing.

 

Initially, the page was just a place I posted my recipes. Fast forward to January, I completed Spelman a semester early, so I had time to explore different things. And I needed money. I had a job, but who doesn't want more money? And, I love to cook, so I was like, let me try meal prepping plates. I started in my apartment off Hollowell Parkway. There was so much! I had my dining room table filled with containers of meal-prep food for different clients. And that developed into me cooking plates for college kids. After I graduated, I was like, OK, this is a lot…this is stressful!

 It was fun but very labor-intensive. And I didn't feel like the amount of money I put out equated to how much I earned. So, I went to graduate school in Chicago. That was hard because I don't know anybody there, and grad school is very time-consuming. When I came back home because of the pandemic, I started posting random recipes on social media and going live out of my mom's kitchen.  I had more open space to cook, and I knew people in the area. And, being back home, I felt more comfortable branding my cooking. With me recording myself, people started requesting classes. One of my Spelman sisters asked me to conduct a virtual Juneteenth class, and I said, Wow! Yeah, why not? I never thought of using private spaces to do cooking classes. That opportunity snowballed into what I'm doing now. I partner with other organizations to host classes. Also, I host a class series of my own.

 

RJ:

What a fantastic story. I enjoy learning about your transition from Spelman to walking in your purpose.

Tell me how you came up with the name, ZaZa for ZaZa's Kitchen.

 

 CZ:

 Zaza was a nickname that a girl from my boarding school gave me. She was an exchange student from France. Her name is Laura, and I could not pronounce her name, and she could not pronounce mine as well. She used to say, I cannot say your name, so I'm going to call you ZaZa. Ever since freshman year, everybody started calling me ZaZa. So, she made it up.  To me, ZaZa's kitchen just kind of have a ring to it. So, when I have my restaurant, that's going to be the name.  I don't have a restaurant now, but I’m starting with the actual brand.

 

RJ:

That's an exciting story. I thought the name ZaZa came from members of your family.

 

CZ:

Right, because growing up, family and friends called me Zali.

 

RJ:

How do you come up with new recipe ideas?

 

 

CZ:

I'm very much somebody who gets ideas out of nowhere. I feel like sometimes it is intuition.  I see a concept, and I put my spin on it. For food, I would say my inspiration comes from a lot of things. My love for travel inspires my passion for different cuisines. You know, I'll see something, and I compare it with other things that I love. Also, when people request different dishes from me is another way how I develop my recipes. I'll taste something, for example, my cream corn recipe. I usually make my cream corn in a crock pot, and it gets like a burnt sugar flavor. So, I'll say, OK, how can I develop this more? So, I hone in on what I know, like my culinary skills, and then marry that with flavors that I love.

For my classes, entrepreneurial concepts. I believe I'm like a teacher at heart.  I love helping people learn. So, I try to develop ideas or class concepts that are engaging and nuanced. I like to keep people fresh on their feet, but I also enjoy bringing it back to the basics. As for my kid's class, I think kids need to learn how to cook, but I don't want it to be, "we're doing ants on a log." I'm not too fond of stuff like that. We can get kids to cook if we break it down and make it palatable for them. So, for their class, we do simple recipes like strawberry French toast. But I don't say to them, "we are about to do a strawberry compote," although that's what it is, a strawberry compote and real French toast. I think it's just about me having patience with the people I'm working with and knowing they can achieve high culinary concepts. You just got to break it down.

 

RJ:

How are you building a thriving customer base, and do you feel like your marketing tactics have been successful so far?

 

CZ:

Good question. As part of being an entrepreneur, I'm always learning new things.  I feel like there's never, "oh, I did it!" But, "I want to do better." And I'm somebody who's not super self-critical, but always looking for ways to grow.  I believe my customer base right now because I am newer, is coming from word of mouth. When I do a big event, for instance, with Spelman, someone will love what I do and ask me to do a class for their sorority or a Jack and Jill group, etc. People just spiraled into telling their networks, and that is how I continue to grow. Honestly, word of mouth is the best marketing tactic, But I try to get in the face of my target market.

 

RJ:

How do you see the target audience, and how do you reach them?

 

CZ:

For me, I will say Black women, college-age students to age 35 and up.  Also, I have some kids I work with, and I have corporate businesses who want to use my services as team building. I try to appeal in different senses, but it's not always on social media. I use email marketing and presenting my business at various events that I attend virtually. I can do better at marketing, but people have new strategies, and I try to go with the wave.  Honestly, I am learning as I go.

 

 RJ:

Tell me what motivates you.

 

CZ:

What motivates me outside of food or my business is people who live their lives with purpose. Being in quarantine, many people had time to sit still and ask themselves, what is my purpose in life, and how am I living that out? I'm not always gravitated towards people who do food, and I say that because I think this is with everything, but some people do things solely for money or fame. And that's cool, but we all have different motives. For me, I want to go harder when I see people living their life in their purpose, boldly.

I have many different people I could point to, like this one food blogger, The Kitchenista.  She is BOMB!  She knows food like the back of her hand.  I aspire because if you live your life with purpose, there's a confidence that comes when you're doing things aligned with what you're supposed to do. Also, you love what you do, so it doesn't feel like work, and I want to live a life where I feel like I'm not working. Do I write emails and develop recipes? Yes, but it's so fun to me. Also, I'm motivated by very well-studied, skilled experts. It is great to have a purpose. And me at 23 years old, always knowing I loved to cook, but now starting to understand my role in this big food world is fulfilling.

In ten years or less, when someone asks me how to run a business out of your home and develop recipes, I want to be able to share all my knowledge. I just admire people who know what the heck they're doing and do it very well.

 

 RJ:

Tell me your greatest fear when it pertains to your business if you have any, and how do you manage fear?

 

 CZ:

I don't know if I have any fear when it comes to my business. I don't want to sound like I'm cocky or anything, but I don't believe I'm fearful. Sometimes, I'm hesitant about things like timing. For instance, at what point am I going to have the income to sustain myself solely off ZaZa's Kitchen? My dream is to do classes for underprivileged kids. But, for that kind of work, you must have resources.

So, I'm patient because I know the time will come. I don't want to say, have ZaZa's Kitchen as a full force because, as I'm beginning, this is its full force. But at what point is it going to become a national household name where I'm a sponsor on a children's chop show or something like that. So, that's what I'm waiting on.

 

RJ:

In the beginning, I asked WHAT inspires you. Tell WHO inspires you?

 

CZ:

My parents inspire me a lot because they're very entrepreneurial-minded.  Had I grown up not seeing people who didn't do what they're passionate about, I think I will have a very different outlook on what success is. My parents are very artsy, creative, business-minded people. And they are more mission driven. I believe they care about the people they work with, and that's what I aspire, so they inspire me. Also, my grandmothers inspire me. My mom taught me how to cook, but my grandmothers are matriarchs, so cooking helped bring our family together. And I like to think that food in ZaZa's Kitchen helps people come together, too. So, seeing their model is what I want to embody. I have a lot of friends who inspire me, as well. I think we're all kind of in the same space to understanding what we're good at and starting to do those things. One of my friends is a poet, the other, my Spelman sister, is an artist, and I have a few others that I feel we're all creative in our own right. So that inspires me a lot. I could go on, but just women who are leaders and bosses, entrepreneurs in it for the right reasons.

 

RJ:

Where do you see ZaZa's Kitchen in the next five years or less?

 

 CZ:

I want ZaZa's Kitchen to be a storefront, but I want to own a building where I'm teaching physical classes. I want it to be multi-purpose and have many different kitchens, some being kid and camp friendly, and the others solely for professional chefs and classes. I want to be the director of a team of teachers and account managers who work with our clients. I may teach a few classes, but I want to be the leader who oversees everything. So, I want to do the same thing I'm doing now, just on a more significant and more consistent scale. I know this is going to happen soon.

 

RJ:

That sounds exciting! I can't wait to see that all come together for you and ZaZa's Kitchen.

Please share any advice you have for people who may feel reluctant to follow their dreams and pursue their passion.

 

 CZ:

I have a few pieces of advice. First, you've got to start somewhere. For different phases of my business, I would say, "oh my gosh., I don't have the money." To me, you're never going to have as much money as you want, or you're never going to have all the people on your team that you need. But part of that is starting somewhere. Also, it would be best if you learned a lot of different roles to be an entrepreneur. For instance, I know how to edit my website. If I needed to create a logo, I could do that as well.

You have to put yourself out there and stop waiting for everything to be perfect. As you grow, your business is going to grow. Another piece of advice I have is, your network can take you far. I'm very proud of how far ZaZa's Kitchen has come in a matter of six to seven months, but that's because I try to connect with people who have similar interests as me and see how we can work together.

 

And, my most final and most important advice is, you cannot work with everyone. You just can't.  I believe, again, people can be good at what they do, but if you don't vibe and work well on a team together, it's not going to be good. So, screen people before bringing them into your business. Your businesses are your babies, and you won't introduce a literal baby to anybody, so you can't present your company to anybody. Also, sometimes you can't trust people, and they'll try to take your ideas. Or you might put something out, and because the product is not right, you don't want to be associated. I believe in really knowing what your business represents and bringing people in who only align with that.

RJ:

That is terrific advice. Well, that was my final question for you. Is there anything you would like to add before we conclude?

 

CZ:

No, I believe we covered everything.

 

RJ:

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me and encouraging communities across the globe to pursue their passion and never giving up on their dreams.

 CZ:

You're welcome. Thank you for allowing me to share.

 

Want to connect with ZaZa’s Kitchen and support her vision? Please visit the following websites:

Everything But The Turkey Digital Cookbook: https://www.zazaskitchen.com/shop 

Book a Class: https://www.zazaskitchen.com/booking 

Recipes: https://www.zazaskitchen.com/recipes