Adijatu Jalloh runs her own catering company in New York City, is the head grill chef at Cut by Wolfgang Puck and is one of the chefs of Resident which hosts pop-up events showcasing aspiring chefs in the city. And she’s only 22 years old.
Jalloh has been cooking ever since she was a little girl in the West African country of Guinea, where she prepared her father’s meals with her stepmother and the other women in the family. She joined her mother in New York City in 2008, at the age of 8, and in middle school she got connected with the Careers through Culinary Arts Program, better known as C-CAP, which nurtures, mentors, and grants scholarships to culinary students who might not otherwise be able to launch their careers.
She said cooking kept her out of trouble. “It made me love going to school and look forward to something,” she said. On top of that, she needed good grades to be involved in the culinary programs, and that was motivation enough for her to focus on her studies as well.
She started cooking in restaurants at age 15, at Popeyes, and soon moved on to full-service restaurants — first The Copper Still, then Pilot, a seafood restaurant on a boat docked in Brooklyn headed by chef Kerry Heffernan, and then, while still in high school she started cooking at Nobu 57.
In the meantime, she was selling her own Buffalo wings, cooked out of her house, to classmates.
“That didn’t work out very well. I was losing money because I didn’t know about food cost,” she said.
She moved on to work at Cut by Wolfgang Puck, where she is now head grill chef, while still also running her catering company and working with Resident.
Jalloh recently shared her career path and her strategies for creating the food of her childhood in a modern Western context.