By Stef Tschida
Among the plates, bowls and casserole dishes of food at Lachelle “Chelles” Cunningham’s office potluck, one had been scraped bare. It was the dish that had contained her homemade curry cabbage. While curry cabbage is far from standard potluck fare, coworkers at the company where Lachelle worked as an executive assistant couldn’t get enough of it. But when they asked her for the recipe, she had none to give. Lachelle had created the dish based on intuition after eating something similar at a restaurant and believing she could make it even better.
While Lachelle had enjoyed cooking as a teenager and young adult, she’d never had this type of reaction to her food from anyone outside her family. The potluck experience was eye-opening. She felt like she’d just unlocked a part of herself that had always been there, lying dormant. But she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it just yet.
At the time, Lachelle’s dream was to become an event planner. She thrived on the opportunities she got to plan company events as part of her executive assistant role. She relished pulling together all the details, but especially planning the menu. She decided to try combining her love of events and food by putting on dinner parties for friends and family. They were a hit. Soon she was being asked to cater events.
It wasn’t long before Lachelle was getting requests to cater weddings and corporate events as well. While she’d become accustomed to hosting intimate gatherings and cooking for small groups, these new requests were much bigger endeavors than she’d taken on before. That was when she decided she’d leave her career as an office worker behind to go to culinary school, make the leap to entrepreneurship and set up her own business.
Just five years later, Lachelle is a celebrated chef in Minneapolis, Minnesota, bringing her love for food to life in many ways. She owns her own catering business, Chelles’ Kitchen. She’s an instructor for the Minnesota Neighborhood Development Center’s entrepreneurship program, where she teaches food business classes and serves on the board of directors. She’s a culinary instructor at Saint Paul College and the culinary education coordinator at The Good Acre, an organization dedicated to connecting and supporting farmers, food makers and communities by creating sustainable food systems. And Lachelle is also a frequent volunteer for many not-for-profit food-related organizations, including Community Cooks at Appetite for Change and the Minneapolis Public Schools True Food Chef Council.
Lachelle sees food as a “great equalizer” in its ability to bring people together. But she’s concerned about how certain communities, including her own African American community, lack access to healthy food and education about its healing properties. That’s why, along with the dishes Lachelle prepares for her catering clients, she shares nutrition information and how certain ingredients benefit the human body.
That’s also why Lachelle’s strongest passion lies in one of her newest ventures, the Healthy Roots Institute, where she focuses on healing through the love of food, the art of food, and the business of food. This includes providing access to vocational training and internships in food service careers for underemployed and unemployed people, as well as teaching people how to start their own food-related business.
Lachelle dreams of expanding the Healthy Roots Institute to include an online school and to offer healing and wellness retreats and workshops. In the meantime, she’ll continue educating others and continuing to do the thing that got her into this business in the first place: feeding people.
Chelles’ Kitchen will join Red Stag Supper Club as an official caterer of Women’s Entrepreneurship Day Minnesota (WED MN) at the Minneapolis Institute of Art on November 14.
To learn more about Lachelle’s businesses, visit LachelleCunningham.com.
Photo: Lachelle Cunningham
About the author: Stef Tschida is a former corporate communicator and lifelong storyteller. Stef’s WHY became clear when she worked at her daily campus newspaper. She realized she didn’t want to ask tough questions as a reporter—she wanted to help organizations answer those tough questions. She’s been doing that work ever since.