If you are Food Network junkie, as is half of this country’s female population, then you would have followed Jamika Pessoa in the 2009 Next Food Network Star right up to her elimination. The self-described island girl who was really born in Alabama, USA, to a Trinidadian mother and a Jamaican father, Pessoa was one of the favourites of the competition and was best known for her spicy dishes and bubbly personality. As quickly as the doors of the Next Food Network Star closed on Pessoa’s dream to have her own show, a window of opportunity opened for her at The Learning Channel (TLC). And now Pessoa can be found on TLC’s Home Made simple series on Saturday mornings. The show pairs families in need of home care with experts for home improvement results. Pessoa’s job as the chef host is to help busy moms in the kitchen by showing them how to make three dishes that are easy, budget friendly and full of flavour. “It (the show) gives me the chance to do three of my favourite things—cook, travel and look cute on camera.”
Perhaps it should have left a bitter taste in her mouth but honestly Pessoa would tell you that she’s thankful for her Next Food Network Star experience, even though the results didn’t swing in her favour. “It was an awesome experience. I was able to show a different type of chef as a young African-American female chef cooking food from my Caribbean roots,” she told WomanWise in an e-mail interview. “I loved the element of surprise in each challenge. It allowed me to truly test my chops as a chef. It was an adrenaline rush like no other. When that clock started, I was never certain of what I was going to prepare; I just knew I had to have something on the plate. “You can study all of your life as a chef, but you can never prepare for an experience like cooking and competing in front of millions of viewers.”
The Food Network also gave Pessoa the exposure she needed taking her from small town to celebrity chef in one fell swoop. “My career skyrocketed.” Growing up, Pessoa’s family home, which she shared with her sisters and parents, was also one filled with the aroma of island food. “Living in the South and being the daughter of island parents was quite interesting. My two sisters and I grew up eating some of the best food. “Any given Sunday, we could have fried chicken and biscuits and salt fish and ackee on the table. My parents made sure that although we grew up in the States, that we were well aware of our Caribbean roots. I grew up learning to appreciate my hometown in Alabama and my home islands in the Caribbean.”
Her Grenadian grandmother, who taught her to cook, is still, in her opinion, the best cook in the world.
“She taught me how to cook at a very young age and she taught me how to love to cook and how to add that love to my food.” Although Pessoa didn’t pursue cooking until she was an adult, having began her professional career as a corporate marketing executive, she knew even back then that she had a gift.
“Cooking was the one thing that I could do well even when I was not even trying.” It was her passion for food that made her leave her desk job to pursue a career in cooking. Her classical training includes schools in European countries such as Venice, Italy and Vienna, Austria and the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Atlanta.
In 2006, recognising her desire to be the boss, she paired her love for cooking and entertaining and started her business—Life of the Party Personal Chef Services. Pessoa was positioned as a Chef to the Stars and became a highly sought after personal chef in Atlanta, Georgia, cooking for numerous celebrities and professional athletes. On set, Pessoa is charged. Her energy is infectious to those who view her. And that smile? Well, it is as real as all the fun she seems to be having in the studio’s kitchen. “My smile is not rehearsed or forced on camera. The fun you see is true. “I have a blast on set every time. I am very silly and laid back naturally, so I create that vibe in the kitchen as well. I want viewers to feel right at home when they watch me. Once people hear about her Caribbean and Southern background they immediately request a dish that combines both cuisines. As a result of this, Pessoa has had to develop several signature recipes that’re a little bit island and a little bit southern USA. She swears that the “fusion of flavours seem to dazzle all who try it.”
Her own favourite Caribbean dish is rice and peas with her father’s jerk chicken. “I enjoy cooking Caribbean dishes the most because I get to pay homage to my family and most importantly I get to make the dishes that my grandmother taught me when I was a little kid.” Ever so often, when time allows, Pessoa flies to Jamaica. “I recently visited the island of Barbados where I got married right on the beach. It was beautiful. My next quests are St Lucia and Carnival in Trinidad.” Pessoa wants to one day be a household brand with cookbooks, products and her own cooking show. “I was just named the new spokesperson for Hillshire Farm, so that will keep me busy touring. As long as I keep following my calling and keeping God first, the sky is the limit for me.”