Meet Just Food Community Chef Madea Allen!
The summer season is officially in full swing, and Just Food’s Community Food Education program has a wealth of resources for New Yorkers looking for inspiration to create simple, healthy--and of course--delicious seasonal meals. Join us for our monthly cooking series at Whole Foods, or check out a Community Chef in action at one of 22 markets in the City Farms Market Network.
Since 2007, Just Food Community Chef Madea Allen (above) has shared her passion and enthusiasm for cooking and holistic health with neighbors at CSAs, food pantries, and farmers’ markets. This month, in addition to cooking demonstrations, she’s working with Just Food to train youth to do cooking demos at their neighborhood markets.
Madea was raised in Southeast Washington, D.C. in a home that valued food as a source for health and healing. Her father grew up in Kingston, Jamaica in the 1930s, where his community relied on herbs and food as remedies for illnesses. Her maternal grandfather was known for his expertise in foraging and herbal medicine; her mother was raised in Washington D.C. and ran an herbal remedy shop.
Healing others was Madea’s birthright. As an undergrad at Dartmouth College she pursued a major in psychological sciences and took pre-med courses. After graduating, Madea worked for a year as a doula and perinatal educator with HealthCorps in Providence, Rhode Island. Serving on the front lines of health care, Madea realized that a medical career was not for her. “I was really drawn to the mind and medicine, and how your mind impacts healing and health,” she says. “I got frustrated because I started to realize there were too many factors affecting the clients’ health that weren’t being addressed.”
As she cast about for a new career, a suggestion from her brother—“We’re all cooks, he said” — led her to cooking school and her current career path. After finishing the program for Holistic Nutrition and Health Counseling at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, Madea completed the professional Chef’s Training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health and Culinary Arts. During this time, she started her own business, Organic Soul Chef, LLC, which provides holistic health coaching, cooking classes, and wellness workshops.
Madea first heard of Just Food and the Community Chef program while at Natural Gourmet. “I realized I really like teaching when I was at Integrative Nutrition, I started right off the bat facilitating health seminars and cooking classes.”
By joining the Community Chef program, she could spread her knowledge of healthy eating with other communities. And while the audience learns the grounding effects of carrots or how they can cook a parsnip, Madea is learning too. “When I first started with Just Food, I didn’t really enjoy writing recipes, but it was a required part of being a Community Chef,” she says. Madea recently published an e-cookbook of wholesome recipes. “Constantly going out in front of people and doing cooking demonstrations developed a muscle in me.”
With 5 years of Community Chef experience under her belt, Madea continues to expand that muscle by teaching the next generation of Community Chefs. This season she has already co-led Community Chef trainings for adults with Community Food Education Program Coordinator Angela Davis. This month they’re teaming up to train teens and young adults for a new Just Food project, which teaches youth to lead cooking demos at farmers markets throughout the city.
“My goal is to reach new people, inspire people to eat locally and organically and to inspire people to cook,” says Madea. “Just Food is helping me to spread my mission of eating well.”