If Kenneth Temple hadn’t found his way to cooking, he might well have made it as a lyricist. The chef has a definite flair for the poetic, as well as being a magician in the kitchen and a disciple of his unique version of soul food, though he is quick to define the latter in terms that give everyone some sort of claim.
“Every culture has its own version of soul food. It’s just cooking that comes from the heart,” he says.
Rest assured, Kenneth is as big-hearted as they come. Born and bred in New Orleans, a city chockablock with world-renowned chefs and food that Mark Twain dubbed “as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin,” Kenneth has a flair not only for enticing you to find a seat at his table, but for making you believe you could be orchestrating the meal.
He has a gift for bringing heavenly delights down to earth with his cooking style and menu choices, both of which are peppered with the language of love.
It started early for Kenneth. But he insists he wasn’t a prodigy. “I was that kid waiting for Grandma to finish Thanksgiving dinner, just like everybody else,” he says.
Yet, at the tender age of 3, he was already serving as his dad’s “mini sous chef” and by the time he was 8, he had landed on a system for making his favorite omelet, a smoked-sausage-and-cheese variety.
“I would char the sausage, wipe out the pan, cut the meat into crescent moons and add the cheese,” he says.
Kenneth found his inspiration for that dish from an omelet book he borrowed from the public library. People thought his choice of reading material was unusual, he laughs. It made “all the sense in the world” to him.
He naturally and perhaps inevitably found his way to the culinary arts in college, “needing to do something with my future.” He felt comfortable in the kitchen and his professors took note. One in particular commented that Kenneth was in the right place.
“Cooking is one of the only professions where you can touch people on multiple levels with one interaction. Mentally, physically, spiritually, emotionally.”
His first chef job out of college was at a local restaurant. That’s where the chef for pro athletes Chris Paul and Reggie Bush tracked him down, letting him know a member of the New Orleans Hornets was looking for one as well. Savory, LLC, Kenneth’s private-chef service was born, offering his signature “Southern Creole” or food in the tradition of the Creole, Cajun, Southern and Caribbean traditions.
These days, he’s as busy as anyone can be, which is not to say he doesn’t find time for more. His bio includes stints as a media personality and chef to the stars, involvement with the movement for healthy and affordable food and even a role as a New Orleans ambassador to Durban, South Africa. Not bad for someone less than a decade out of culinary school. He also gives back to the community he cherishes in a way that is deeply personal. Among others, Kenneth works with Pink House, which mentors young girls, and Son of a Saint, an organization that nurtures fatherless boys, the majority of whom have lost their fathers to street violence or long prison sentences.
Like his cooking, not all of his outreach is prescribed, however.
“When I catch the little kids playing basketball in the neighborhood, I’ll shoot around with them,” he says.
Those impromptu opportunities give Kenneth a way of paying his debt of gratitude to the universe.
“I had a lot of elders in my life who took time to teach me,” he says.
Their mentoring is paying dividends in the form of a young man who is right where he should be: putting his heart and soul into everything he touches.
Learn more about Chef Kenneth & Harold in the first chapter of Cooking & Culture.