Chef Veronica Wandui: How I Found My Voice In A Man’s World

HuffPost. September 2021.

Veronica Wandui is the executive banquet chef at The St. Regis Atlanta, where she orchestrates weddings and conferences for up to 600 guests at a time. After graduating from culinary school in Nairobi, Wandui was demotivated, harassed and told to stay “in her place.” She migrated to the United States and restarted her career, earning business management and culinary degrees and making her way from an intern to executive banquet chef at one of the most opulent kitchens in Atlanta. In this Voices in Food story, Wandui talks about what it took for her to get ahead as a Black female chef in a male-dominated workplace.

Continue reading on HuffPost…

Priscilla Russell – One of the First Black Women Air Traffic Controllers

Cuisine Noir Magazine. July 2019.

When we get on an airplane, we may acknowledge the flight attendants and the pilot, but very rarely do we think about the crew on the ground that enables a fleet of planes to crisscross the globe. Priscilla Russell is the first Black woman in the history of Atlanta Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC) to work as a frontline manager. In her recent novel, “In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer,” Russell gives a firsthand account of what it takes to work in air traffic control while inspiring other women of color to pursue careers in aviation.

“When I started, the only thing I knew about the FAA was that president Ronald Raegan had fired 11,345 striking air traffic controllers in 1981and banned them from federal service for life. Though it struck as breaking news as one of the most important events in late 21st century U.S. labor history, it also ended up changing the landscape of Air Traffic Control (ATC) as we know it. Because of the workers strike, there was mass recruiting, and for the first time, minorities and women were encouraged to apply,” recalls Russell. The compensation package offering of a $50,000 annual salary (which was a lot in the 1980s), made it a pretty attractive career choice to this Black teen who had grown up in a large, low-income family in Birmingham, Ala.

High Demands
Retired Air Traffic Controller Priscilla Russell
Photo credit: Priscilla Russell

In her book, Russell describes the high-pressure job of an air traffic controller. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, air traffic controllers’ primary concern is safety, but they also must direct aircraft efficiently to minimize delays. They manage the flow of aircraft into and out of the airport airspace, guide pilots during takeoff and landing and monitor aircraft as they travel through the skies.

“It was only when I went to work that I found out there was so much more than towers and planes involved.” Russell discovered this during her grueling exams and vigorous trainings that spanned two and a half years. There is a lot of information to learn in a short time, and senior officials weren’t very confident of her abilities. “They didn’t bother to learn my name thinking I won’t be there too long,” she recalls.

Russell had a steep learning curve to become a certified professional controller (CPC).

One needs to be good at math, 3-D imagination, cognition, problem-solving, taking standardized tests and thinking on your feet. “Believe it or not I made a lot of bad choices and my journeys is a testament that it doesn’t matter where you are in life, you can still turn your life around and achieve whatever you want,” says Russell.

Diversity in the Control Room

At the time, there was not much ethnic or gender diversity, and moving up the career ladder was rather difficult. When Russell arrived at ARTCC in Hampton, Ga., which is the busiest control center in the world, there had been only one Black female in training to be certified. Russell was the first Black woman in the history of Atlanta ARTCC selected as a front-line manager in 1994.

At 55, Russell is retired after working at the Federal Aviation Administration for more than 32 years and lives in the suburbs of Atlanta with her husband. She spends most of her time writing and spending time with her grandchildren.

“In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer,” is the first of a two-part series. In this book, Russell talks about how she set her mind to join the FAA academy as a young adult, overcame her drug addiction and worked tirelessly in her classes to become fully certified. She is working on her next book which she plans to release in December 2019, where she addresses her experiences with sexual harassment and on-the-job discrimination.

“In Control: On a Wing and a Prayer” is available on Amazon.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine. All rights reserved.

Uganda Gets Its First Food Blogger, Sophia Musoki

For Cuisine Noir Magazine. September 2018.

Sophia Musoki (who goes by Sophie) is a 24-year-old food blogger from Kampala, Uganda. Her blog, A Kitchen in Uganda is one of the first, if not the only, food blogs that showcases Ugandan cuisine on a global scale. Since its inception in 2014, it has been recognized by CNN African Voices and shortlisted for Saveur Magazine blog awards, and her e-book won the Gourmand World Cooking Award.

Musoki chats with me from Jamaica, where she is currently pursuing her Master’s degree in business management and entrepreneurship at the Northern Caribbean University. I wanted to learn a little more about Ugandan cuisine and how she is setting it up to take the global stage.

Why did you start blogging?

I aspired to cook since I was a young girl. I couldn’t go to culinary school, so I started experimenting with food at home through my blog. In the beginning, it was just meant for me as I discovered creative ways to cook my food. I didn’t expect anyone to read it. I was doing it for my family and friends.

It was only in 2015 when a digital marketer approached me that I started taking my work seriously. He told me that I was the only one doing this in Uganda. I was shocked! I searched for other food bloggers and there was no one else writing about our food. Perhaps because the Internet is expensive here or no one looked at Ugandan food the way I did.

What’s the focus of your food blog?

In the food industry, African food does not show up in mainstream media. Very few people know about Ugandan food, which is influenced by colonial British and Indian immigrants. Ugandan cuisine, compared to other African cuisines, is simpler. We don’t really spice our food that much. We like it simplified. We believe that local ingredients have enough flavor and don’t need much seasoning.

My fellow Ugandans often read food blogs where the recipes call for ingredients we don’t find here. We can get apples and blueberries sometimes, but they are very expensive. To avoid the frustration, in my recipes I use ingredients that an average Ugandan can afford. We have a lot of local and indigenous produce that we can use to make our meals more exciting. Traditional stews, starchy food, posho (ground white cornmeal mixed with water) and soups can be flavored with local mangoes, avocados, oranges and jackfruits.

What does your typical day look like?

Every day is different. Cooking is only 50% of the work in food blogging. I plan the day before what I’m going to cook. On the days when I’m cooking and shooting, I can shoot up to three recipes. Then I schedule my posts out weekly.

I develop recipes for local companies such as Britania, Yo Kuku! and African Wine Traders using their products and earn commissions which help me sustain my blog. I also offer product photography to companies that need image libraries for their products online.

It is a lot of hard work. Often, family members help by holding the dishes (you may have seen their hands in my pictures) or with shopping in the market.

What would your grandmother say about your food blog?

She would be interested. For her generation, food is something they had for survival. There was no allowance for extravagance. It was mostly boiled, steamed or stewed for a quick nutritious meal that allowed you to fill your belly and get back to work.

I still cook traditional simple dishes that she makes, but make them a little more interesting. One of my favorite dishes is katogo, and she makes the best! It literally translates to a mixture of things. You can boil a combination of bananas, tomatoes, groundnuts, cassava or beans in a pot. I just add some ghee and avocados to modernize it.

How do you feel about your success?

It’s humbling because I never expected it to become this big. So, when I receive awards for my blog, it gives me affirmation that I’m doing the right thing. I am also inspiring and mentoring other African food bloggers.

What’s next for you?

Currently I’m working on a new e-book on a dish called rolex, one of my favorite things to grab when I’m working and don’t want to spend a lot. It is a popular local street food which has recently gotten the spotlight. I contributed to a piece on rolex and CNN picked it up, making it a phenomenon. Basically, it is eggs rolled in a chapati, filled with onions, cabbage, kale, meat and tomatoes. I am experimenting with other ways to make it.

What advice can you give to other food bloggers?

Be consistent. Keep doing what you are doing and something might come out of it. Devote time to producing quality work. Sometimes there’s pressure to publish regularly, but it’s more important to have quality. The readers appreciate that more.

Visit Musoki’s blog, A Kitchen in Uganda, at www.akitcheninuganda.com and follow her on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

~ Written for Cuisine Noir Magazine.

Are You Running a Blog or a Business?

huffpost taste

According to a survey by Foodista and Zephyr Adventures from February 2012, The prototypical food blogger is a married woman in her 30s or 40s living in the United States. While she is either a parent or perhaps on the way to being so, she is likely to be employed full time, part time, or working in her own business. She most likely comes to the food blogging world with some relevant food, marketing, or writing background.

This generalization includes me, a 33-year-old married female blogger living in Atlanta, who started her blog as a hobby while holding down a job in corporate America. The only difference between the 181 million bloggers around the world and myself is that I discovered a way to live my dream lifestyle and have a viable business that emerged from my blog.

Four years ago, I started Go Eat Give as a way to document my travels, restaurant reviews, recipes and inspiring stories of people doing good. The theme of my blog was to connect people, places and palates. In other words, to show how people around the world share the same emotions and aspirations, despite our differences in customs, religions and ethnicities. Food is one component that brings everyone together, whether you are in Kabul or Paris. As a result of reading my blog, people got motivated to volunteer when they traveled, to give back in their own communities and to walk inside a strange-looking ethnic restaurant in their city. The readers started sending me compliments and donations, inviting me to speak at events and share with others my vision of a connected world. What started as a blog became a movement for global change, and I incorporated it as a nonprofit organization that serves to impact hearts and minds of citizens everywhere.

Most bloggers start their blogs because they have a passion for that subject. According to the Foodista and Zephyr Adventures survey, about 40% of food bloggers do it in hopes of turning their blog into a job, yet only 1% of blogs generate enough income to substitute a salary. Sure, they can collect ad revenue and get free samples and complimentary invitations to tastings and festivals. More successful bloggers contribute to magazines, write books or restaurant guides, teach cooking classes and even become a local authority on food. A few lucky ones are able to get a job in a related field, such as food styling, photography, marketing, recipe testing, etc. Some enterprising ones end up opening a food-related business, such as a restaurant or a line of specialty food items (vinegars, sauces, mixes). The bitter truth is 75% of food bloggers do not make any money from their blogs.

Should you stop blogging, then? The answer depends on what you want to achieve from it. If your goal is to share your recipes with the community and spread the message of good eating, you should continue to do what you are doing. But if your goal is to quit your 9-to-5 job and earn a living from blogging, start thinking out of the box.

In fact, when I paid closer attention to the professional lives of my food blogging colleagues, I found that most of them were using their blog as a platform to showcase their work, instead of a direct stream of income. Graphic designer Melissa Crane discovered her passion for food while doing freelance work. She launched her blog Dash of East to get her photography gigs in the food and restaurant industry.

Another inspiring lady, Malika Bowling, started by writing about chefs and restaurant on her Atlanta Restaurant Blog. Before she knew it, companies started hiring her to do their PR, online and social media marketing. With a guidebook (Food Lovers’ Guide to Atlanta) under her belt, Bowling is now the Atlanta Editor of 10Best.com and earns a living through blogging-related business. She has also founded the Association of Food Bloggers to serve as a directory of ethical and reputable food bloggers.

Raleigh based Linda Watson had seen the full spectrum of food blogging. Watson started a campaign for healthy eating for less through her blog Cook for Good, where she posted delicious recipes that one could create with a food-stamp budget. Since then, she has published two books, her latest being Fifty Weeks of Green: Romance & Recipes. Watson tours the country giving talks on fighting hunger, affordable eating and sustainability, creates instructional videos and teaches cooking classes. If there is one thing to learn from Watson, it is that as a food blogger you must never stop being creative and resourceful.

Are Women Empowered to Travel Alone?

huffpost imapct

Recently the death of American traveler, Sarai Sierra in Turkey made headlines and started a global conversation about whether or not women should travel solo. Many experienced globetrotting women chimed in engaging in dialogue from both sides of the debate. I was closely following these discussions and taking notes on latest safety tips given by travel pros. I am also a 33-year-old female who travels alone at least once a month, often to countries that are listed under U.S. travel alerts. I feel empowered to see the world, to travel alone, to meet new people, yet I am concerned for my safety.

Does a woman today have the freedom to go to Honduras, Turkey or South Korea by herself, have fun and not risk her life? Being empowered doesn’t mean taking off anywhere, anytime, not having a companion, or being answerable to someone. It means building confidence, gaining insights, understanding yourself, and developing personal skills. Being empowered presumes you have some level of common sense and emotional maturity to make your own decisions, while ensuring your safety, and those of others around you.

When I was volunteer vacationing in Morocco in 2010, many of my friends had forewarned me against famous Moroccan con artists. While I met some really nice and very helpful people there, I kept the advice in the back of my head. While on a train journey from Rabat to Fez, a travel agent approached me offering local transportation and guide service during my visit. The medina (market) in Fez has 9,000 narrow streets without names or directions, and everyone, including locals is known to get lost there. It is highly recommended to go there with a tour guide, so I jumped on the offer. But as soon as I disembarked the train, I paused and gave my decision a second thought.

I considered the worst-case scenario of this situation. What if the agent was a con artist and his intention was to take me to the middle of dessert, rob or rape me, and leave me there? Was it worth risking my life, so as to not get lost in a colorful crowded market? I hurriedly walked past the guide at the train station, and took hailed for a taxi instead.

Last month, when I traveled to South Korea while Kim Jung Un broadcasted his nuclear attack threats on its neighbor, I stayed with a host at his home in Seoul. My host and I had only met online through a travel exchange website a few weeks before. We knew very little about each other and had communicated via email and texts. Although I was nervous about staying alone with a total stranger in a country where I knew no one, I looked for logic and instincts to help me make my decision. My host was a Senior Sargent at the U.S. Army base in South Korea. He lived by himself in a big house, but had a wife and two daughters back in Texas. I made sure this was accurate by doing some research on social media, which by no means qualifies as a thorough background check.

When I met my host at Seoul Station, I instantly knew he was genuine. He looked decent and spoke well, but most of all, I felt positive about his intentions. During the course of next five days, we got along extremely well, sharing several meals and lengthy conversations. He gave me a private room, took me sightseeing around Seoul, and even gave me the keys to his house. The experience is one I would cherish forever.

In both situations, I felt empowered to make the right decision and create unforgettable experiences for myself. By equipping myself with wisdom, good judgment and intuition, I am able to learn about different cultures, places and people.

As you find your own sense of empowerment, you will find there is always a moment when instincts take over reason and emotion. In our busy lives where our attention is challenged into several different directions, it is difficult to silence the mind and tap into our deep-rooted sense of sixth sense. This is the little voice in your head that says, “Don’t do it.” While practical knowledge and common sense are extremely important in decision-making, fall back on the voice. We all have it inside of us. You can use it in your relationships, work, and to travel to exotic places around the world, to in essence always be empowered.