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Q&A: Chef Jernard Wells on how millennials are influencing menus

Chef Jernard Wells of Food Network Star discusses the impact millennials are having on his world -- including increased focus on health and sustainability, and reliance on social media.

5 min read


Q&A: Chef Jernard Wells on how millennials are influencing menus

The National Peanut Board

This post is sponsored by the National Peanut Board.


The National Peanut Board and The Culinary Institute of America recently welcomed more than 30 professional chefs and food bloggers to St. Helena, Calif., for NPB’s second annual Millennial Food Summit. Held over the course of two days, the summit allowed influential chefs to discuss the impact millennials are having on the foodservice industry and learn about new peanut food concepts. NPB had the opportunity to interview summit attendee and “Food Network Star” runner-up Jernard Wells about the impact millennials are having on his world.

When it comes to food, millennials want it all — convenience, value, nutrition and a memorable experience. As a chef, how do you craft dishes that address all these needs?

When it comes to food, millennials do want it all and they should have it. I believe you can have your cake and eat it too! As a chef, I craft dishes that not only provide the perfect nutrition, but the right flavor profile. My goal is to source ingredients based off the quality or season to get maximum flavor. Each plate I create is unique in its own way and handcrafted to bring the eater into my world. Food is always about the experience, but it’s also important to master the art of speed for an on-the-go life style.

Millennials look to a wide range of media and influencers for food inspiration and guidance. How do you engage consumers of this generation and what are your top sources of culinary inspiration?

We live in a social media driven world and I’ve learned to adapt to change to stay on the cutting edge of trends. The way we cooked five years ago is so different from today’s style. Living in a world of gastronomy cooking and Pinterest inspiration, I rely on social media, national cooking shows, magazines and lots of travel. When I visit a city or country, I never eat commercial. I request to eat where the locals dine so I can truly experience the uniqueness of the area. I use this as a guide to my style of plating and to discover new, innovative concepts to infuse in an old-style cuisine. I regularly visit local farmers markets to sample and ask the farmers what are they growing and what has spiked in selling, which gives me an idea of what’s trending. Also, having nine children ranging from age 21 to 7 years old helps a lot. We do cooking sessions in our home so I can learn from them.

Sustainability has a broad definition to the millennial generation. How do these factors (eco-friendliness, eating local, social consciousness) influence your work as a chef?

Sustainability is key in marketing but truly standing behind it goes so much further. I believe in sourcing fresh ingredients and incorporating products from whatever region I’m creating an amazing meal in, which supports that area if I make a living there. It’s my duty to support the locals that help make it all possible, especially in the food scene. I do a lot of private consulting and personal chef services throughout the world. The one thing that always reigns supreme is to buy local and eat local. I own a sauce and spice manufacturing company named Le’ Chef Amours Haute Cuisine and I source all natural ingredients locally and from eco-friendly companies to insure maximum freshness.

Cooking at home is less common among millennials, many of whom plan meals on-the-fly while they shop. What are some versatile ingredients you would recommend millennials add to their shopping lists that can be used to create a range of healthy, exciting meals?

Cooking at home for some millennials tends to be viewed as time-consuming and stressful. Cooking can actually be therapeutic. For anyone who is on the go living a fast pace lifestyle, operating on limited sleep and pressed by deadlines, pre-portioning meals ahead of time is a good idea to consider.

Here are my 10 products to keep around to whip up something healthy on-the-fly or just for a quick snack:

  1. Micro greens (full of nutrients and good for plate presentations)
  2. Oils for sauteing (peanut oil, olive oil and canola oil) — these heart healthy oils are packed with flavor and can bring anything to life. These oils are also great for blending with balsamic vinegar to make a splendid salad dressing. Scientific evidence suggests but does not prove that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, including peanuts, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.
  3. Sriracha — with this bold spicy sauce you can truly open and enlighten the flavor profile of any dish. Plus, a little heat ain’t never hurt nobody!
  4. Kale is a great plate filler for salads, in soups and Asian fusion dishes. Roasted kale chips are also great on burgers.
  5. Fresh chipotle peppers — the natural smokiness of these peppers gives any dish a unique taste. They are also great for creating barbecue sauces.
  6. Cheeses like smoked gouda, brie and gorgonzola
  7. All-natural chicken and cage-free eggs
  8. Local honey
  9. Peanuts and peanut butter
  10. Fresh, seasonal fruit

Jernard Wells is a chef, author and entrepreneur. He has appeared on the Food Network shows “Food Newtork Star,” “Chopped Jr.” and “Cutthroat Kitchen.”


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