Something magical is cooking at 435 Wyckoff Ave. Behind the unsuspecting kitchen doors, Chef Jazmine Hammond prepares meals that are sure to satisfy just about every hungry sorority girl’s appetite. From decadent french toast to Korean street tacos, there’s nothing Hammond can’t cook. Recently, creative cupcake creations like cookies and cream and blueberry cobbler have been up for grabs as a post-dinner treat or late night study snack. I found out that these cupcakes are a part of a larger endeavor of Hammond’s: her catering business.
The mainstream view of a chef in the kitchen of a busy restaurant is far from that of a personal chef to a house full of 35 girls. Hammond, too, didn’t expect herself to be in such a niche position. I was able to sit down and talk to Hammond to learn more about her culinary past and how she ended up working in a sorority house.
Hammond always knew she wanted to be a chef and was “largely inspired by her grandfather,” who babysat her when she was young. Her passion for cooking was fostered at such a young age that while many children asked for toy cars or Barbies for Christmas, all she wanted were tickets to see Emeril Live, a cooking show that she was a big fan of.
Hammond attended a Boards of Cooperative Education Services program in high school for culinary arts, which led her to start pursuing a bachelor’s degree at Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island. While in school, she found a summer job at the Inns of Aurora, where she worked under Chef Patrick Higgins. This summer gig then turned her to work in positions from prep cook to pastry chef at the Inns for eight-and-a-half years. Instead of receiving a bachelor’s degree as she originally planned, she thought it would be beneficial to continue working — she felt that she “got more experience working a job and being there everyday than she would have received in a classroom.” This experience along with her natural talent is evident in her cooking skills.
After her time at the Inns, she wanted a taste of something new.
“A lot of people say that in culinary positions, it’s really long lived if you live five years in a kitchen,” Hammond said.“It gets stale, it’s a hard job to come into everyday and you want to advance and move on to build more knowledge.”
She decided to be a chef in an Italian restaurant in her hometown, Cortland, but all the while searched for something more. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, leaving the restaurant business in shambles and Hammond without work for almost a year.
“That was the weirdest part in my career because I went from working so much to being home all of the time,” Hammond said.
When things started to become more normal, she saw how different the restaurant industry had become. Instead of serving 100 to 200 people in a night, they were now producing more take out orders and only seeing a handful of customers in house. She realized that she got used to cooking dinner at home, but also missed the challenges that came with working in a kitchen such as preparing food in a time crunch.
“It’s like a game,” Hammond said. She started to look for new jobs and landed an interview at DiBella’s sub shop as a supervisor. On that same day, she texted her girlfriends to wish her luck, and one of them replied that she had seen a post about an opening as a sorority chef. Right after the interview for the DiBella’s position, she stopped by Alpha Epsilon Phi house and the rest is history. Working as a chef to a sorority house “is totally different than anything I’ve ever done,” she said, but it was “the best plan of action” for her career and the lifestyle she was looking for.
Hammond has enjoyed the last few months of working in the house and can see herself doing it for years to come. One of her goals for the future is to open a food truck that serves late night meals. She envisions offering “five to ten really great items” between the Cornell and Ithaca College campuses. She has also thought about how having a business on wheels would allow her to move anywhere she wants. When she’s not at the house, she loves to go to wineries, kayak with her boyfriend and dog, travel and try new restaurants. Some of her favorites in Ithaca are Saigon Kitchen, Mercato and Asia Cuisine. No matter what she is doing or where she is, she is constantly trying to “build more knowledge about food.” The girls in Alpha Epsilon Phi can agree that they are lucky to have such a great chef this year and will miss her greatly when they move to off campus housing next year.
Ally Mark is a sophomore in the College of Human Ecology. She can be reached at [email protected].