Not long ago, Jerome Grant was a local from Washington, D.C., trying to figure out how to be successful in the restaurant industry.

Today, the executive chef of Sweet Home Café at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, satisfies his passion for cooking by creating exciting dining experiences for hundreds of thousands of people who visit the museum each year. He’s also writing cookbooks that delve into the importance culture has on food.

On May 8, Grant provided inspiration to about 400 kids at the kickoff of the 2019 ProStart Invitational in Washington, D.C. The kids competing at the event, run by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, are learning to navigate successful pathways to successful careers in the foodservice industry.

The Filipino/Jamaican chef, who grew up in New York, Oklahoma, California and Maryland, exemplifies how much aspiring industry professionals can achieve through hard work and determination. During his keynote speech, he told them to learn about new things.

Grant said that when he was little, he and his family traveled a lot. It enabled him to see a lot of the United States. He also said he enjoyed eating, so he tried everything. That helped him realize food was his passion. Cooking was what he wanted to do when he grew up.

In high school, his home economics teacher saw how much he enjoyed cooking, and advised him to take classes. From there, he went on to attend the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. The rest, as they say, is history. He got his first real restaurant job butchering fish. After that, he kept moving on to new and different experiences that expanded his knowledge. That, he told the ProStart competitors, is one of the most important things he – and they – could ever do.

“You’ve got to take chances,” he said. “You can’t be afraid of what’s behind the door.”

Grant also shared three other pieces of advice:

  • Learn every day. There shouldn’t be a day when you don’t learn something, when you don’t pick up a magazine or watch something about food.
  • There shouldn’t be a day when you don’t converse with someone about food.
  • Be true to who you are, and have the confidence to push forward.

“You are light years ahead of the rest of us,” he said. “I’m excited to see where you go and where you take our industry.”