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If Lisa Geneen Brooks ’92 cooks for you, she’ll know everything there is to know about you and food.
And she gets personal.
“I ask every single thing about how you eat and what you like to eat,” Brooks says. “Every little thing.”
Brooks’ job title is one shared by thousands in the U.S., individuals who are feeding an ever-growing need.
But Brooks came to her calling differently than did some. She started Heart & Soul Personal Chef in 2010 after leaving her job as the manager of a tech-support center in Durham, moving home to Charlotte and enrolling in a culinary arts program at Piedmont Community College.
Brooks was a then-single mom, her son was a college-bound senior at East Chapel Hill High School, and she had a well-paid position with benefits. “It was this really crazy time for a transition,” she said, but her job was high-stress with sleepless nights. Still, she worried that having left UNC a year shy of completing a degree would hold her back. “My experience and reputation with the company were all I had to lean on,” she said.
So she decided to lean on something else — her faith.
She said she asked God what she should do next, and in the span of two weeks, about a half dozen people who happened to taste her cooking told her she should cook for a living. One was someone she’d never met, a stranger at a New Year’s Day brunch where she had prepared a collard-green quiche and a salad with black-eyed peas, creative variations of holiday traditions. “Just one bite of something,” she marveled, and people were telling her to do one of the things she loved the most — to cook.
“This whole thing was a God thing,” she said. “I asked [and] … He told me just to turn and walk in that direction, and so I did.”
The person who showed Brooks the apartment she rented in Charlotte became her first client. Now she works with six other chefs, including her husband, Ken Brooks; they all prepare weekly meals for in-home clients and cater events ranging in size from a dinner for two to a banquet for 200. The Heart & Soul team also puts on demonstrations at cook shops, grocery stores and special events, such as the ACC Tournament. Earlier this year, Brooks competed in an episode of the Food Network show Guy’s Grocery Games, placing third and garnering high praise for her cilantro aioli.
For in-home clients, it’s as if a culinary version of the Cat in the Hat has stopped by. Making five meals for a family of four takes Brooks about four hours from the moment she walks in the door with her equipment, prepares the food, stores it in the fridge, cleans up, empties the trash and leaves. A less customized service lets diners pick from online menus, with meals delivered in the bright purple Heart & Soul delivery truck Brooks bought earlier this year.
“The things they hate, they’ll never see,” she said, “and the things they love, they’ll see often.”
Brooks intends to expand to her old stomping grounds by the end of the year. One day, there might be a fleet of Heart & Soul trucks traveling Triangle streets, she said. It just takes faith.
— Lucy Hood ’83