Author: Dr. Monica Y. Jackson, Ph.D. | April 2015
If you talk to anyone who is living their purpose and working in their passion, then they will tell you that it does not feel like work. They will say I get paid to do what I enjoy and love. Chef Bill Blackburn is enjoying and loving what he does, and reaping the harvest. He owns a full-service catering establishment, Catering by Ashley and an organic restaurant, Blackburn’s Table to Farm, both in Southern California. He says it takes two things to be a great cook, “an absolute love for eating, to the point when you finish one meal you’re already thinking about the next [and] to be completely taken by the act and art of feeding others, especially when serving total strangers.” On the day of this interview, Chef Bill had just finalized a major contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. We had just spoken about it the day before while I was dining at his establishment. Let’s get to know Chef Bill and allow him to educate us about food from the land and farm to the table.
“When you look at the cost of being unhealthy – obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and associated health care costs, then it is more expensive to not eat healthy.”
Tell our audience about Chef Bill Blackburn.
I was raised in Detroit, Michigan in a large family. As a result, we had to be resourceful when it came to food. We went to farmers’ markets weekly. My uncle had a farm and I grew up where there were gardens in backyards. We ate from the land. I left Detroit right after high school and joined the Marine Corps. I attended Los Angeles Community College (LACC) and Oregon State University, where I played football. I worked in telecommunication and sales. I always enjoyed food but I did not know what to do or where to start. While still working full-time, I went to culinary school. I attended Epicurean School of Culinary Arts in West Hollywood because it catered to working adults. I attended school at nights and on weekends. In fact, it was the first time that I had ever missed a season of football. I completed my training in 14 months. I started a catering business while still working full-time. I catered weddings, private parties and other social affairs. Eventually, I met a private chef and added private chef to my repertoire. I started getting clients who were interested in organic foods. This is where I got my start and interest in organic food. I soon built up my business and left my full-time job.
“I would like people in the community to have access to local farm, local produce and the best. Access is essential, because what we purchase in the local markets is not necessarily the best.”
How did you become interested in culinary arts?
My interest was sparked by cooking for and entertaining my family. They would gather at my home and I would cook. They would enjoy my food.
Tell us about Blackburn’s Farm to Table and Catering by Ashley.
Catering by Ashley is where it all began. I named both businesses after myself. Ashley is my middle name. Blackburn’s takes me back to when I grew up – eating from the land. That is what Blackburn’s is all about. We are about using fresh foods as much as possible. One day, I’d like to have a single story location and a rooftop garden where I can grow fruits and vegetables in containers.
What is organic, sustainable, clean food?
Organic is the process of growing foods without chemicals or pesticides and using organic dirt. Organic farming is a lengthy process. It takes two years to become a certified farmer. Your food growing process is closely monitored. Sustainable is land and water that is free from chemicals and solutions. They haven’t been damaged. This is what makes food clean.
What is the greatest misconception that society has about food?
The greatest misconception is that healthy food is hard to cook. It is not. Another misconception is that healthy food is expensive. However, when you look at the cost of being unhealthy – obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and associated heath care costs, then it is more expensive to not eat healthy.
What does a day in the life of Chef Bill look like? What is your greatest reward?
My days are long and begin early. At 6:30 a.m., we receive deliveries at Blackburn’s – produce, seafood and meats. We then put things away, cut and prepare portion sizes. We do lots of prepping from scratch. We then prepare for lunch and dinner. We prepare sauces and soups, four to five each day. My greatest reward is the joy of cooking for strangers. I enjoy seeing empty plates returned, smiles on faces and happy reactions to my food.
You have served a distinguished roster, tell us about this list.
I always knew the type of clientele that I wanted – corporate and middle to high-end. I have friends who worked on political campaigns and requested my menu. I have served Howard Dean, the democratic presidential candidate and President Obama (when he was running for senator) which was headlined by Hilary Clinton, to name a few. I had an event where I was supposed to prepare food for 1,200 people. However, I received a call at the last minute to bump the headcount up by 500. We had to scramble to make it work, but we did! I have also been a private chef to billionaires.
You recently secured an exciting opportunity with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Tell us about it. How did it come about?
Yes. I will work with the Los Angeles Dodgers’ strength conditioning coach. I will teach players to eat clean and educate the athletes, preparing them with high performance, high protein meals, before and after games. These meals will also help them recover. It will be all organic – vegetables and meats. We will juice between games. We will provide pre and post-game meals for 40 people. I will meet one-on-one with each player. I will work with them at their homes to get them set up with the right cooking equipment, educating them on where to purchase food, how to prepare foods and deliver an overall education about foods.
What would you like to see changed about the food industry, creation, choices and consumption?
I have access to the best. I would like people in the community to have access to local farm, local produce and the best. Access is essential, because what we purchase in the local markets is not necessarily the best.
What advice do you have for someone interested in becoming a chef and operating a business?
First, they must know that being a chef is not an 8 to 5 job. You must be focused. You must like it. You cannot go after the hype that is on the television. You have to have a pure love for it.
Our motto is learn, build, inspire, model, promote, love … LIFE! How is Chef Bill aligned with this motto?
I have the pure joy of observing reactions during and after people eat my food.
It is quite evident the Chef Bill has learned, no mastered, his craft, continues to build his business, inspires others to eat healthy without sacrificing taste, models, promotes and loves life. I hope you are beginning to realize that it is truly more expensive to not eat healthy than it is to eat healthy. Join Life Skills Enterprise at Blackburn’s on Sunday, April 26, 2015 from 3:30 to 6:00 p.m. to indulge in a delicious, nutritious, light and filling organic meal, along with dessert. Enjoy live entertainment by the Legendary Whispers’ saxophonist, John Valentino, and delectables prepared by Chef Bill, who will also educate and share a few tips to help us all perform better, live better and be better. Dr. Monica Y. Jackson will also be on hand to sign her book, Eat Healthy Without Sacrificing Taste. Visit the products and events for details and to purchase your ticket. Advanced ticket purchase is required. Space is limited. ♦