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Leveling Up On Instagram Landed This Chef The Opportunity Of A Lifetime

Keanu Hogan of Hell's Kitchen took small steps toward big wins.

BOSS UP

It doesn't matter what culture, race, or group you identify with, the concept of small efforts leading to big results is a common one. Whether it's from the Bible (look up Matthew 17:20) or quotes from people like Oprah (who said that small steps can "take on greater meaning"), we all know that small efforts toward a goal can lead to big wins.


If you need proof, let's just take a look at recent happenings in the life of a very talented 24-year-old chef. Keanu Hogan, who became a contestant to reckon with on the 20th season of Hell's Kitchen, got the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity not by efforts of grandeur, desperation, or viral foolery, but by simple, authentic action. The Baltimore native was one of the youngest on the show to make it as far as she did, and she represented proper for Southern melanated queens, cooking up dishes like smoked shrimp and grits while rocking box braids with baby hair laid and lip gloss popping.

After paying quite a few dues, Keanu had finally gotten the chance to spread her wings and learn from one of the best in the culinary industry: Gordon Ramsay.

At the time, she wanted a change, and she knew she had to do something in order to prepare for whatever transitions were coming her way. She had worked in clubs, bars, and restaurants on the super-tough, appearance-focused Los Angeles scene and had become disenchanted. "My confidence suffered a lot, and I compared myself to a lot of the women who were out there," Keanu recalled. "There was a lot of [focus on] plastic surgery and competition. I just missed home. I was in the process of trying to move back to Baltimore and decided that, before I moved, I would really work on my business."

"I started cooking dishes and my best friend would take pictures of everything. We'd be up all night. All we had was a ring light. We didn't have anything else."

Her urge proved to be right on time. Once she started being more strategic about creating a brand presence on Instagram, she'd built up a following of just 250 when she was contacted via direct message by producers of the hit show. "They just asked, 'Are you interested in being on Hell's Kitchen?' In the beginning, I thought it was a joke. I responded, and I got an email. I did a Skype interview and then did another interview. I was back and forth, visiting with family and traveling to LA, and I was selling meals from my home. I sent the producers what they asked for, and they said, 'OK we're going to fly you out to Vegas for your third interview.'"

After not hearing from producers for weeks after, Keanu said she thought she hadn't made the cut. She finally got a call where she was instructed to pack her bags for a three-week stay. The experience allowed her to not only be in front of millions of Fox viewers, but to solidify her confidence in her craft and abilities.

"A lot of people don't get one-on-ones with the Gordon Ramsay, even in past seasons. I just remember him looking me straight in my eyes and he has this way of seeing you for who you are. That was really liberating."

"He told me that I was a firecracker, and I didn't know he noticed," Keanu added. "When you're around this figure you're inspired by, you tend to want to put on your best self, and a lot of us did that, so sometimes we were trying to be so perfect. To hear him say that I'm this assertive individual with a tenacious might [was] amazing. He was also impressed by my story, knowing that I was from a small city where people usually struggle and that I was able to move out of that and do my own thing at 23. He said I need to step up and assert myself more and be a leader. I will never forget that. "

While on the show, Keanu drew from her experiences growing up in Maryland, as well as her training at Monroe College in New York as a collegiate team competitor.

"My youngest memories are centered around food and the kitchen. They stuck with me. I remember birthday cake when I was four, peanut butter sandwiches my great grandmother made for me after school, and the sausage and biscuits my grandmother would make from Bisquick."

"Watching someone prepare something for me—I just loved the intention that was put into food prepared by my family," she added. Keanu would begin to help in making some of the family's meals, and was always under the nose of anybody who was in the kitchen. "I learned how to make sweet potato pie before I was 10 years old. We went fishing and camping a lot and we would grill. My mom always had a cast-iron pan just so we could have scrambled eggs and bacon in the mornings. It was just something that I didn't realize made me feel really good, no matter how young I was."

Though she didn't come out the victor on Hell's Kitchen, she was able to tap into a larger audience, gain exposure, and hone in on monetizing her passion in a way that would be lucrative. Today, she has more than 10,000 IG followers along with two thriving businesses. Tastee Towers, offers unique, small-batch desserts that take you back to the days of treats at grandma's or sweets you'd get from your local candy lady back in the day. "We focus on nostalgic desserts that you grew up eating like an oatmeal creme pie, s'mores, strawberry banana pudding, or egg custard snowballs, and we make layers of it. We don't use refined sugar and we make everything from scratch. We just layer on the fun," Keanu said. "We also sell water ice in the summer months, and we will have a storefront really soon."

Thee Perfect Bite, is a full culinary experience that focuses in on the vibes, feelings, and memories behind enjoying well-prepared meal—one made with ethically sourced and organic ingredients. It was launched at the onset of the pandemic due to increased need for fresh meals prepped for home delivery.

"It's not just about the small portion, but having it like that allows people to focus on more than the food and realize it's really about the energy, love, care, tribe, community, and culture. It's something that someone put love into. It's sacred."

Keanu has also hit another major milestone, becoming a mom to a 16-month-old daughter. "While I've been nurturing her, I've been learning new techniques. I've been eating a plant-based diet because I'm trying to make sure she has good eating habits. I'm showing her that good food doesn't have to be processed. This journey in business and my career taught me a lot in that regard. Everything I do now, motherhood reflects in it, and that includes being a chef and a businesswoman."

Find out more about Chef Keanu Hogan via her Instagram @Follow_theleeda.

Featured image courtesy of Chef Keanu Hogan

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