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Lynch’s Colorful Soul

Chef Lazarus Lynch’s World of Food, Fashion, Art, and Social Impact

 Chef Lazarus Lynch
Chef Lazarus Lynch

One cannot miss Chef Lazarus Lynch. No matter the setting, he always catches people’s attention. There is, of course, his often eye-catching look. However, his energy—positive and enthusiastic—are even more apparent when one encounters him. Even on a day when he is wearing a plain black sweater, that life comes through unmistakably.

So, it should surprise no one that he was a very artistic kid. He was involved in music, painting, drawing, and other ways of expression, which continues to this day. They always formed a big part of his personality.

However, the self-proclaimed “Son of a Southern Chef” did not start paying attention to his love of food early on. Despite frequent church potlucks on Sundays being one of the ways he bonded with family, and although gathering with food was how the people close to him celebrated, he never realized his love for food until he was about 11 or 12.

He started to watch food shows on TV. He became obsessed with how things were made, as well as the science and chemistry of food.

At the same time, his entrepreneurial father had just opened a Soul Food restaurant near his family in Jamaica, Queens in New York City. The idea of the restaurant was to take all those recipes at home and bring them to life, to an area that surely needed them.

This happy coincidence allowed Chef Lynch to see the joy of folks coming into his father’s restaurant. He learned that great food can touch other people in a very meaningful way. So, that led him to enroll in a culinary arts high school called Food and Finance High School in Manhattan, New York.

“We had to do all of our core academic classes like math, reading, science. And then we had to do cooking and baking and pastry. And it wasn’t any Easy Bake curriculum… It was a very rigorous curriculum. And so, we did competitions, we traveled to universities to learn different techniques, we did competitions, we did catering,” he says.

Fried Chicken

The real turning point, however, was when Ingrid Hoffman, the Colombian-American television personality, chef, and restaurateur, showed up at his class. She was doing a cooking demonstration and needed a volunteer. His classmates nominated him to get up and cook with her.

It was the first time he started paying attention to this natural knack for telling stories via food. Long story short, things took off after. He started a successful YouTube channel called “Son of a Southern Chef,” which became the name of his cookbook many years later.

Cranberry Sangria by Chef Lazarus
Cranberry Sangria

Even though he became more immersed in the culinary world, he was still unsure how to fit into different academic “boxes .”He had so many interests that it was difficult for him to concentrate on one particular thing. To the point that he switched majors three times during his time at college.

“And I always joke about it—I graduated with a BS (bachelor of science) in individualized studies. Which, you know, BS is BS… but it did come together in some form,” he says.

He hung out in the media department. He took journalism courses and attended classes in communications, chemistry classes, and writing.

Despite constantly changing his field of study, he managed to graduate in four years. And when he looks back at his higher-education experience, all these things exposed him to other interests he now uses throughout his career. For example, his first creative writing teacher in college told him that he had a great voice and that he should write. It planted a seed, which eventually blossomed into a book. Every small piece led him to his current path. He realizes that if people allow themselves to be curious, to open up to possibilities, and to make new connections, it can lead to great things in the future.

A similar theme of open-mindedness came next as he was tapped by the Met Gala in New York. His mentor and one of his dear friends, the famed Chef Marcus Samuelsson, reached out and said that he wants Chef Lynch to be a part of this event and for them to have this opportunity together.

In addition to their long-established friendship going back to Chef Lynch’s high school days, Met Gala’s vision to celebrate, amplify, and showcase American voices was another intriguing aspect of this project. Specifically, at a time when Americans are having serious conversations about race, equity, gender, and inclusivity, it was a way to come together and say what that all means through food. So, he looked at it as an opportunity to protest and to align with his beliefs.

 Chef Lazarus Lynch
Chef Lazarus Lynch

As the process played out, everything became more concrete when its chairwoman Anna Wintour reached out personally. She assured him that it was not merely a “send your recipe and be done” kind of job. The process involved exchanging ideas back and forth. In the end, the benefit committee chose the ones they felt would work best. For Chef Lynch, the experience was extremely validating. It showed the world that sticking to one’s principles and following one’s heart can lead to a successful path.

Sandwich

Obviously, during the event, he was able to rub shoulders with countless celebrities and stars. Miss Wintour, for example, introduced him to designer Tom Ford. He also met Serena and Venus Williams, the extraordinary tennis legends. One of his favorite memories was how he ended up sitting next to actress/singer Jennifer Hudson.

He was on his way home after preparing the dinner since he technically did not have a seat at the gala. Just as he was leaving, however, Miss Hudson asked where he was going—to which he told her the truth. She then insisted that he take the seat next to her. And so, he did.

“There’s me. There’s Jennifer. There’s Alicia Keys. Pharrell [Williams] comes over. Ciara, Jennifer Lopez, there’s just all these people. And… as much as we know them to be very successful, [the night] was also very calm and very normal,” he says.

Though one may think that food and fashion occupy two completely different worlds, Chef Lynch thinks that they share an emotional link. Our relationships with cooking and clothes are both heavily influenced by feelings. Also, they both play with colors and textures. More importantly, it is about mood. And what one wants at a particular moment, and lets intuition be the guide.

With the advance of time, today’s chefs are thinking about more than just food. They are also involved with business, technology, and mixing everything with art, music, video games, fashion, and more. In Chef Lynch’s mind, technology offers access. There are no more informational barriers. There are no more gatekeepers to access food, recipes, or stories.

Technology is a particularly relevant subject, as social media is playing an increasing role in everyone’s life. During his early days on Instagram and YouTube, he would work with different teams to build and promote things he made. As his popularity grew, he was able to open up doors for different ventures. However, today, he is less interested in managing social media and giving himself away pointlessly. He has to learn what is the right balance for him.

In terms of the LGBTQ+ experience in the professional kitchen, he felt he could not bring his full self to work in that environment. A simple example is the chef hierarchy, which is about who gets to control things, who gets to have the loudest voice, and who gets to make decisions. He was taught that one needed to respect that hierarchy. So, he had to present himself in a certain way in order to be accepted and to work.

However, the good news is that nowadays, there is zero tolerance for any kind of abuse. It is no longer okay to swear at someone or for people to throw a pot at someone else just because they did something wrong.

Fried Chicken Burger by Chef Lazarus Lynch
Fried Chicken Burger

As a society, Chef Lynch thinks that we underestimate the power of being a witness at every level. “Living life and being present have power. It is powerful. It is transformation,” he says. To that end, he also works as a counselor for young people. As part of his journey and education (he is working towards a Master’s degree in social work), he sits with a client for an hour to talk about mental health.

 Chef Lazarus Lynch
Chef Lazarus Lynch

He loves working with his clients as they teach him more than he teaches them. One of his clients recently told him they wanted to thank him because they never had someone to talk to about their issues.

So being aware of what is going on and being able to help however—no matter how small—is invaluable. Whether cooking a small meal for your family or talking to friends or cousins or whomever, these things do matter. Especially for those who suffer in silence despite putting on a brave face.

“Every day, really ask people, ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Are you okay?’ ‘Do you need support?’ ‘Is there anything that you want to share with me that you haven’t talked to anybody about?’ ‘How can I be there for you?’ ‘How can I be more present for you?’ If we all begin to do that, I think we will have a happier, happier world.”


TROORA MAGAZINE | MAY 2023
WRITTEN BY CARY WONG
PHOTOGRAPHED BY ANISHA SISODIA | TOM MCCORKLE

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