Chef Aryen Moore-Alston Wants to Feed You
I think people respect the fact that sometimes passion trumps education. Sometimes your love for something trumps the sophisticated way of how to hold a knife or how to cut or dice or mince. You can see it in someone’s eyes that they love what they do. Hopefully, that love that I have for the culinary arts will show and people will just want to share this journey with me.–Chef Aryen
Aryen Moore-Alston has always been one of the most talented people that I know. Aryen can write you a software program, create the graphic design for a brochure, perform an original dance, bring life to a character in a play, and cook you an amazing meal. Oh did I mention that she speaks three languages? A graduate of Spelman College, her career first began as a security analyst for a Fortune 500 company. She realized that wasn’t what she wanted to do and returned home to Memphis briefly before relocating to California where she worked for a casting director and a publicist. She came back to Memphis to host a television show and eventually found herself working for a marketing and public relations firm, teaching dance to children and introducing them to technology.
With multiple careers under her belt and she was only in her 20’s, Aryen still wasn’t doing the thing she has loved since she was a child, which was cook. Her father, who passed when she was a preteen, helped her develop this love and when other children were asking for Barbies she was asking for cookbooks so she could try some new recipes. This love led her to open her own catering company, Sweet Potato Baby. Also, in 2008 she and her mother, Karen Moore, launched “This House Is Cooking,” a television cooking show that took place in houses for sale in order to showcase the real estate. In 2012, Aryen sent in a video audition for “Food Network Star” and was selected to compete in the 10th season for her own cooking show. She was the first person chosen from Memphis and from Tennessee during the 10 years the show has been on the air and the only African American female on the show this season. I caught up with the 31-year-old single mother (her daughter Kennedi is four) just before she flew back to record the final episode to talk to her about what life is like now.
JH: What’s has it been like being on “Food Network Star?”
Aryen: It’s been almost surreal being on the show. We’ve filmed, we’ve flown, we’ve had our phones taken from us, and we’ve been isolated. It’s always interesting to see how they edited it. It’s almost like you don’t want to watch, but you do because you know you saw it your way but now you’re waiting to see how the world is gonna see it. It’s also very rewarding. I’m finally where I knew I wanted be.
JH: What has it been like interacting with the judges and the cast?
Chef Aryen: The judges aren’t really accessible. In our interactions, they seemed fair and professional but we didn’t get a lot of time together. Now the cast members, we spent a lot of time together and I have love for all of them. It’s like a little sorority or fraternity. It’s something that a lot of people aren’t going to go to or go thru. We’ve had sleepless nights and early mornings. It was fun and we have a bond. I love all of them and they’re all amazing.
JH: What have you found to be the most challenging thing about the show?
Chef Aryen: The pressure. I really thought I acted well under pressure but everything about cooking under pressure made me second guess ingredients or dishes. Plus, it’s a situation you would never put yourself in. You would never go to the grocery store and say I have two minutes to shop. Then, you get home and you realized you have to go back because you don’t have your parsley or you don’t have your spaghetti. You don’t cook like that. You’re usually more organized. You don’t have that luxury of time to plan your meals properly on the show. The stress was tantamount. I almost lost it a couple of times but it was fun. Now, looking back on it, it was fun. I didn’t think so at the time, though. It was a great experience. It made me stronger.
JH: How are you enjoying your taste of celebritism? You’ve been making appearances around the city. How’s that going for you?
Chef Aryen: It’s like ok and then I move on. I have this appearance to do or this interview to do. I have to set up for a food demo. I’m on this channel in the morning. I love being a personality. I love meeting people, not necessarily fans. I don’t want to call them fans but meeting people who recognize me from the show and the different press things I’ve done. For me, it’s the business around being a chef as I work to get where I want to be. I also have to think of my daughter. Where is Kennedi going to be? Who’s watching her? It’s life now. It’s a part of my routine.
JH: As a chef what is food to you? Food has definitely led to all of this.
Chef Aryen: Yeah. Food to me is an experience. Like right now, we are sitting in this Mexican restaurant having food. Years from now you can come to this place again and say you know what, I remember I was here at such a time with Aryen. You have these memories and some of the fondest memories I have, have been around food. I remember when my family lived in Italy, my father used to sing in these night clubs and if I was really good some nights he would let me come with him. These weren’t early nights. I’m talking about like 10 p.m. until 2 in the morning and I would have to go to school the next day. I’d beg to go. I’d always be put in the kitchen or near the kitchen. I’d watch the servers bring food. Plate after plate of pasta or whatever. My father was on stage singing and I just remember the smell of the kitchen, the wine, the smoke of the cigarettes. It’s a wonderful memory. Such wonderful things happen around food. You laugh, you tell stories. It’s a big part of Thanksgiving and Christmas. You get to see your family. The dining room table in my Aunt Kathy’s house is always filled with the elders and they will sit for hours. Food is that binding thing we all have. We all need to eat and we can create wonderful memories around that.
Some people hate the question, ‘What are we gonna eat?’ For me, it’s great question. It’s a reason to create. It’s also kind of emotional for me. I love it and I love how it makes people feel. It’s instant gratification after someone eats it and they tell you that they like it.
JH: I know your ultimate goal is to have your own cooking show and your own line of products. There are a lot of people who do that. What do you think is going to make Chef Aryen different from anybody else?
Chef Aryen: I feel like I’m already different from everybody else. I think I have a unique charisma, a unique energy. I have a really big personality. Sometimes I let it out. Sometimes I play demure. I just think that I do things outside the box. I’m not trained in the culinary arts and therefore, I probably don’t do things as they should be done. I do things my way. I think people respect the fact that sometimes passion trumps education. Sometimes your love for something trumps the sophisticated way of how to hold a knife or how to cut or dice or mince. You can see it in someone’s eyes that they love what they do. Hopefully, that love that I have for the culinary arts will show and people will just want to share this journey with me.
JH: If you could write your own future what would it be?
Chef Aryen: It would be wealth and financial stability for myself and my family and that would come from me being able to share my joy of cooking through my own cooking show. It would be lovely to have a cookbook that’s like a memoir or journal. Then, I’d love to be able to educate others. As a child, after my father died I took it on as my responsibility to cook for my family. I didn’t have to but there are kids that do. Maybe they are in a single parent household and they are responsible for their siblings and one of their duties is to cook for their family. I’d like to educate them on how to do so. How to make a meal stretch. How to buy the proper ingredients at a price their family can afford. Just give kids an outlet to be free and create. I want my own foundation so that I can give back to the community and be very philanthropic with my goals. I also want my own restaurant. I hope to open it in about two to three years and it’s gonna be amazing.
JH: Anything else you want to add?
Please tell everyone to go to www.sweetpotatobaby.co. That is my personal catering website and a great place to find some delectable treats.
Chef Aryen didn’t win Food Network Star but she did catch the attention of many. I can’t disclose what she has on the horizon just yet, but I promise that you haven’t seen the last of her. You can view past episodes of the show at www.foodnetwork.com/Star.
Brandee Evans: Confidence In Heels!
Find that other girl that you see in the bathroom when you get ready to go out and you know she looks good. You have to bring that attitude to class, work, or wherever else you want to go and excel. What’s funny is people think that I’m so confident, but I’m not. I would rather be on stage in front of a million people than in my Hip Hop In Heels class where the ladies are just watching me. I push myself to get over my fears.–Brandee
The world may not know who Brandee Evans is but if she has it her way it will, very soon. The professional dancer has graced the concert and video stage with the likes of Katy Perry, Usher, Ledisi and more. She has served as a choreographer for award-winning cheer and dance teams in the U.S. and Japan. One of her newest gigs is as the assistant to acclaimed choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson who became infamously known for her tough “go hard or go home” attitude on music mogul P Diddy’s reality show “Making the Band”. She just finished the tour she choreographed for R&B singer Ledisi. Brandee, a certified teacher, never set out to be a professional dancer but fate always has a way of twisting our lives around and finding us.
However, it isn’t her Hollywood affiliations that have students, housewives, and plain old working woman, like myself, talking about her. It’s her sexually charged Hip Hop In Heels dance class. If I had to describe it in three words it would be sexually confident workout. Once a high school English teacher, Brandee is no stranger to giving instruction but it’s her dance ability, straight no chaser humor and her desire to help women find their inner confidence through dance that makes you love her. Her classes have been featured in California, Florida, Japan and her hometown of Memphis, TN. Now living in Los Angeles, she frequently flies home to spend time with family and friends. I caught up with her there at the Fred Astaire Dance Studio. I don’t quite know what I expected but what I found was a room full of women of all shapes and sizes who wanted to learn a sensual routine whether it be for themselves or to put on a show for their significant other.
The song for the night was Beyonce’s Partition from her uninhibited album “Beyoncé”. Brandee choreographed a number that accompanied the risqué lyrics perfectly. The class is open to women 18 and older and participants are encouraged to wear clothing that allows them to move freely but also makes them feel irresistibly sexy. The attire I witnessed ranged from leggings to leotards with fishnet stockings and short, shorts. But one thing every woman in the room had in common was that they were wearing calf complimenting heels. Men, except for security, are kept out to minimize the inhibitions and intimidations of the participants. Prudish women need not attend.
The class is geared toward nonprofessional dancers but that doesn’t prompt Brandee to skimp on the difficulty of the routine. Each one I’ve seen could easily be used in one of today’s hip hop videos. By the end of the class, the students, the teacher and her friends, who serve as additional coaching staff, have thoroughly sweated out their hair. The price for the class is less than you would pay for a meal for one at Chili’s but the fun experience and confidence building advice would qualify to go for an insane amount at a Sotheby’s auction.
What I enjoyed most about the class was Brandee’s candidness about her own imperfections. She shared that those muscular legs most women would die for are her least favorite attribute and she has become skilled at hiding her knock knees. She is determined to use the talents the good Lord gave her to earn a living and help others. Throughout the class she made us all laugh, which helped to subside the fears of those like myself who felt they didn’t have the skills to get it right. And she really does want her students to get it right. She often gave gentle correction to those who may not have pointed their toes just right or possessed enough arch in their back when popping that booty.
The self-taught dancer is taking her Hip Hop In Heels class nationwide this summer on a multi-city tour. I for one hope that each city is a sell-out. For Brandee, confidence is more than a word. It’s a mandatory element of instruction.
JH: When did you decide you wanted to dance professionally?
BE: It kind of happened as a mistake. I was on vacation taking some dance classes and someone saw me. The next thing I knew I was on tour. That was when it hit me that maybe I could do this professionally. I thought that time had passed for me. I was teaching school. I was department chair at Southwind High School in Memphis. I was teaching high school English and just dancing on the side and coaching.
JH: You attended college on a dance scholarship, right?
BE: Yeah. I was on the dance team. I graduated from The University of Memphis with a degree in English and a minor in Management Information Systems. I went to go get a job as a substitute teacher instead they hired me full-time. I had to go back to school while teaching to get certified. What’s crazy was when I finally passed my Praxis and got my certification that is when I went on vacation and my life changed. I have been dancing professionally for three years now but I still teach English. I teach English in Japan, and I teach in a private academy in Korea Town in Los Angeles and sometimes I tutor. When the jobs aren’t coming that is when I utilize my degree.
JH: You have quite a bit going on. How are you enjoying working with Laurie Ann?
BE: Me and Laurie are good. People are always asking me what she’s like. The TV Laurie is completely different from the everyday Laurie Ann. I love working with her. I learn so much from her about the business and how to get things done. People on the outside can be hard on her but she gets hired for a reason. She knows what she’s doing, and I love her. It’s been great.
JH: You are also doing Hip Hop In Heels. Tell me how you got started doing that?
BE: I wanted to do something in Memphis that the ladies have been doing in LA. In LA, if you go to the audition none of the ladies are in flats. You may enjoy your hip hop dancing in your sneakers or Timberlands but when you go to an audition they are going to tell you to put on heels and that’s when people start failing. If you don’t know how to dance in heels, you won’t book the job.
I started teaching Hip Hop In Heels at a small studio in Memphis called Dance Houze and I was giving the money to the dancers so they can take dance class. I never took dance classes. I used the money to help these little girls do that and keep them off the street.
JH: So, you didn’t take dance lessons?
BE: No, my mom put me in creative writing classes. My friends taught me the dance techniques.
JH: The reason I thought you would be great for this CONFIDENCE piece was because I saw in a Facebook post how it really bothers you when women don’t have confidence.
BE: Oh, that is my pet peeve. Women will tell me they have plenty of confidence but they don’t dance or they don’t know how to dance. Even though you don’t know how to do something at least have the confidence to step outside of yourself and try it. Now, if you try it and you say ‘oh I just don’t like it.’ That is different from I just can’t do it.
JH: What about people like me who just aren’t good at it? I have no coordination.
BE: Well, maybe you haven’t had the right teacher. You have to have the teacher who breaks it down for you. If they are just doing the steps and moving on then you aren’t learning anything. It’s just like with math or English class, if they are just throwing problems at you but they don’t break down how to do it then you will never get it.
JH: What are Brandee’s rules for confidence?
BE: I say just go for it. Find that other girl that you see in the bathroom when you get ready to go out and you know she looks good. You have to bring that attitude to class, work, or wherever else you want to go and excel. What’s funny is people think that I’m so confident, but I’m not. I would rather be on stage in front of a million people than in my Hip Hop In Heels class where the ladies are just watching me. I push myself to get over my fears. I don’t like my legs so I don’t like to wear shorts. I make myself wear them in class so I can get more confident. The class is helping women boost their confidence by making women do what they don’t like to or helping them get really good at something they enjoy doing.
Hopefully, a reality show. That’s in the works. I helped Ledisi get ready for her tour. I’m her choreographer. I performed on Black Girls Rock with her and I choreographed her video. We’ve been working on her weight loss. She’s lost four dress sizes. Ledisi has been my friend for years. She talked about my class for two years and never came. Now, she’s confident enough to do what I do on stage. With her new album, “The Truth,” she’s telling the truth and everybody is going to be surprised. I’m also helping Laurie Ann take an artist named Ivy on the road with DJ Khalid. I’m doing movies. I was in a movie called “Beyond the Lights” where I assistant choreographed and that should be coming out soon. I also just finished choreographing a video for this Australian boy band named Justice Crew. They are like the Australian Back Street Boys or N Sync.
JH: What about Hip Hop In Heels? I see you are taking it international.
BE: Yes! I’ve done it in the US, UK and Japan, so far and this summer I’m taking it on tour. I plan to do DVDs and all that and hopefully, I can just find good people to carry it on. I’m only one woman, I can’t do it all.
JH: I think that’s great because we don’t have many prominent black women in fitness right now.
BE: I’m trying! Hopefully, the next one will be me.
Watch Brandee on reruns of the BET Awards. She is performing her own choreography with Ledisi on the show and she performed with her during her performance at the Essence Festival. She is also in the upcoming BET Movie “Beyond the Lights”. View the trailer here.
To learn more about her class, visit www.hiphopinheels.com.