31 Aug This Chef Is “Crystal” Clear About Her Purpose
On this final day of Black Business Month, CoCo is elevating chef, nutrition consultant, and entrepreneur Crystal Blanchette for her efforts to bring quality food, education, and nutrition to our community.
By Marsha Mitchell
Senior Director of Communications
Chef Crystal Blanchette has deep roots in South Central … Like so many of us, her family was part of the Great Migration from southern states to the West, which started in 1910 and lasted until the 1970s. Her great-grandmother purchased a house at 117th and Hoover 60 years ago for her father and his siblings, just as the housing covenants were being challenged. Her father still lives in South LA and has become a stalwart community activist.
From these strong Southern connections, Crystal learned to love the land and to love food. She comes from a long line of women who understand how important access to quality food is and how most black folks live in food deserts. “When we move into cities, we struggle. I want to teach people to grow their own food, even if they live in an apartment. We think we must go to the supermarket, but that’s not true. We need knowledge and the resources to feed ourselves. We need to go back to that place,” Blanchette explains.
As someone who has been cooking her whole life, Crystal’s passion for cooking and her desire to create positive change led her to pursue a career as a chef. She honed her skills in renowned culinary schools and worked in prestigious restaurants, gaining valuable experience and expertise. However, she felt a calling to use her culinary talents to make a difference in underserved communities.
“I learned at a young age that black and brown communities have limited access to healthy food, and I wanted to do something about it. One of my clients told me I should open a restaurant,” says Chef Crystal. “I admire anyone who does that, but I thought, ‘This isn’t my dream. But why not be the facilitator in creating a space that supports others with their dreams.’ This allows me to be useful in my community.”
Her mother was a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse and black infant health advocate, and her aunt is a retired registered dietitian and Director for Southern California WIC, an organization dedicated to ensuring babies get a healthy and nutritious first start in life. Motivated by a deep sense of social responsibility, Crystal founded Inner City Kitchen (ICK) to address food insecurity and empower individuals from inner-city neighborhoods. Her kitchen is a hub for culinary education, job training, and community engagement. Crystal believes providing access to nutritious meals and culinary skills can transform lives and uplift communities.
ICK started ten years ago as a cooking and nutrition program for inner-city youth and families. It has been a source of joy and giving as Crystal has taught cooking classes and nutrition education. Set to expand her brand, Inner City Kitchen Food Hall will soon open in South Los Angeles. The hall will continue to focus on the community and established restaurants by providing healthy food education and an opportunity to offer a flagship food stall within the central location. The food stalls will include an anchor tenancy by Lucky Luke Brewing, a vertical garden in partnership with female, black-owned Know Your Fruit Farms, a butchery, access to organic produce, beverage service, and entertainment.
Inner City Kitchen is a culinary incubator space where current and future restauranteurs get support. It offers culinary training programs that equip individuals with the skills and knowledge needed to pursue careers in the food industry. Crystal and her team will provide hands-on training, mentorship, and support, empowering participants to build sustainable livelihoods and break the cycle of poverty. Through these programs, ICK hopes to nourish bodies and nurture dreams and aspirations like she’s done with her own.
“This has taken determination, drive, and heart. Sometimes, it has felt impossible. It has taken a long time to find someone who believes in my dream,” says the entrepreneur. “So many banks turned me down. And I, too, have made a lot of mistakes along the way. But what has kept me going is knowing that this is not impossible and we deserve better.”
Crystal’s Inner City Kitchen is a shining example of how culinary expertise and a passion for social change can intersect. This innovative chef transforms lives and communities through her dedication and approach, one meal at a time. Her commitment to empowering individuals through culinary education and addressing food insecurity is making a lasting impact. And Inner City Kitchen stands as a testament to the power of food to nourish not only bodies but also hopes, dreams, and aspirations.
“More than anything, I want to partner with the community to help fill the food hall with vendors and decide what resources are needed,” Crystal concludes.