From a young age, Jennifer Hill Booker knew what she wanted to do when she grew up— she wanted to cook.
“I’ve always loved food. I would watch Julia Child’s television show on Sunday nights and I watched my mom and grandmother cook,” Booker said. “On Mother’s Day I always prepared something from the ‘Joy of Cooking’ cookbook.”
Now the OSU Institute of Technology alumna wants to inspire others to do what she loves and has written a cookbook of her own, “Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes with a French Accent.”
Booker graduated from Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School, then attended the University of Tulsa at her parents’ urging, despite wanting to go straight to culinary school.
“During that time I always wanted to be a chef,” she said, so after she earned her bachelor’s degree in communications, she enrolled at OSUIT and graduated from the School of Culinary Arts in 1995.
“It was such a great school. There were international instructors, it was a great environment to learn and was small enough that there was a lot of hands-on learning,” Booker said.
She worked in Tulsa primarily as a pasty chef before moving to Germany with her husband, an officer in the U.S. Army.
Booker said it was difficult to find work in restaurants in Germany.
“I was American, I was a woman and I was a woman of color,” she said, so she started her own personal chef service, Your Resident Gourmet, for military families living on the base.
Booker also took advantage of her European residence and attended the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Paris.
“OSUIT really prepared me for that experience because it was so hard,” she said. “A lot of my classmates quit.”
When she returned to the United States, her personal chef business continued to grow and she became an instructor teaching at the Le Cordon Bleu campus in Atlanta as well as starting the culinary program at Grayson Technical Education Program in Georgia.
Even though Booker has spent time in Michigan, Florida, Oklahoma, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia and abroad in Germany and France, she really considers herself Southern.
“My family is originally from the delta of Mississippi and I spent every summer there,” she said.
The next step for Booker was to take all her experiences and the recipes she developed over the years and put them together in a cookbook combining the cooking styles she loves.
“It’s my family recipes from the Mississippi Delta and incorporating some French techniques and flavors. Lightening it up a bit,” she said, and the two styles aren’t that different. “They’re very connected. If you know the culinary history of the South, French and Spanish cooking styles were taught to slaves, who then incorporated their own style.”
Chef Rene Jungo, Culinary Arts division chair at OSUIT, said he is proud of his former student who is now sharing her knowledge and experience through a cookbook.
“I remember her vividly. She always had that outgoing drive to seek new horizons and an eagerness to learn,” Jungo said. “I am thrilled and happy for her success.”
Booker said the hardest part about writing her cookbook was incorporating personal stories to accompany every recipe.
“How do I express on paper the feelings I get when I cook and serve food? I found that I love writing, and I love cooking so this became natural for me,” Booker said. “There’s something for everyone, cocktails to canned goods. People will feel like they have me in the kitchen with them.”