Dominique Clayton is the owner of “In The Kitchen With Dominique, LLC,” a Bay Area catering business serving events both big and small — and most recently, providing meals for those in need in Oakland in partnership with Walnut Creek Kitchen and Eat Learn Play.
A chef’s culinary journey is as unique to them as the food they create; every dish is a culmination of an entire lifetime of learning, experimentation and tasting. This weekend, I had the pleasure of interviewing local business owner Dominique Clayton about her own journey and experiences in the field as a Black female chef.
Dominique Clayton is the creator of In the Kitchen With Dominique, LLC, a catering company in California’s Bay Area. Though she discovered her calling to enter the professional world of cooking around five years ago, food has always been a deeply personal and influential force in Dominique’s life. Growing up with Cape Verdean, Japanese and Italian influences from her parents and other close relatives, Dominique notes that “family dinners were full of many different influences and recipes.” She soon became “obsessed” with watching her mother chop vegetables and other colorful dishes in the kitchen. The sound of her mother’s knife rhythmically preparing ingredients came to signify “something great [that] was about to happen.”
This intense connection to food was all-consuming for Dominique; she notes that given the chance to do anything, she’d “most love to feed you breakfast, lunch, and dinner.” When I asked her to describe the feeling of serving her cooking to others, her passion and excitement was immediately palpable.
“Oh my gosh, I get chills and an absolute rush in my mind, body and soul when I get to create a meal for someone! When I see people enjoying my food, it reassures me and gives me the fuel I need to keep going, keep being creative and continue pursuing my projects. I know in my heart that a meal can make or break someone’s day. Life happens — things get stressful and even in my own home, I know that when I say, “Dinner’s ready!” and people rush to fix their plates, I have a sense of pride, joy, and gratification that I am able to provide happy experiences centered around healthy, hearty and delicious meals … Sometimes, someone will even take a bite and close their eyes as they indulge in the taste of your work, and that moment is priceless for me.”
It can be difficult for many Black chefs to receive the same kind of backing and support for their businesses that their white counterparts enjoy. Corporations and cooking brands are often compelled to represent cooks who are less vocal about their political views while avoiding chefs who use their platforms to promote social justice and other relevant topics. These silent white chefs are “comfortable” and non-threatening individuals in a company’s eyes, whereas “Black chefs can lose sponsorships… for simply voicing their personal journey and experience,” Dominique points out. She even tells me of multiple instances in which someone has DM’d her on Instagram claiming that they considered hiring her to cater an event, yet that she lost the opportunity because she was too “opinionated” about social issues.
In the rare instance that popular white food bloggers speak about issues around racism or politics, it is often because the topic is “trending or they hope to hold onto their POC following.” When Black bloggers call out injustices, it is to protect their own lives and the lives of their loved ones, yet white bloggers are often able to ignore these realities and only acknowledge them when convenient. Dominique stresses that racism and other acts of violence against vulnerable populations are not just Black issues, but rather human issues which we all must come together to combat in unity.
Despite much of the adversity that Dominique has faced in the past, she is hopeful about a bright future for the Black culinary community. She stresses the importance of seeing more Black representation in food, saying that it would help “massively” by allowing Black chefs to feel more confident. The community would give them “a space [in which] they can take risks, put themselves out there, and take leaps of faith.” For this reason, Dominique strives to use her business and influence as a way of drawing other Black folks into the profession. Increasing visibility is the first step towards creating a more diverse — and flavorful — food scene. Slowly, the work of influencers and powerful activists like Dominique is paying off; the world is opening its eyes, ears and taste buds up to the new possibilities.
Amelia Clute is a rising junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].