“I [have] always loved food, even from childhood. And as I was growing up my parents wanted me to be traditional – so grow up to be maybe a lawyer, doctor, teacher… and I did that. I went to college and got a corporate job and became a human resources manager. But I had to follow my heart.”
And, that is exactly what Natasha Forde did – she followed her heart.
Cutting her corporate ties, she started her own catering business – a business that caught the eyes of some producers, because the next thing Natasha knew, she was being scouted for one of the more popular cooking shows on the Food Network – Cutthroat Kitchen!
For those of you under a kitchen sink, Cutthroat Kitchen isn’t your typical cooking competition. This is how it goes – one player, in addition to being a good chef, must outwit and at times, sabotage their opponents in order to win. Each episode features four people vying in three rounds to win up to $25,000 cash after receiving $100,000 which is divided among the four players. They can spend it however they wish with the intention to help them or hinder their opponents until chefs are eliminated down to the last chef standing…some money remaining because that amount determines the ultimate prize.
So back to Natasha!
The then 35 year old didn’t win the title or the cash but she did win experience, some lessons learned and not just over the pots and pans but also the business of cooking. The exposure gained from just being featured on the show even won her some high profile contracts.
“After the show I began to get more exposure as a result of [being on] the show. I actually landed an event with a major brand under Estée Lauder and also attracted potential clients like LUSH brand,” she proudly declared.
But it wasn’t long – in fact one year later, until she was scouted again. This time by ABC for the show The Taste, where culinary superstars Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, Ludo Lefebvre and Marcus Samuelsson served as mentors and judges, coaching a team of four professional and amateur cooks, trying to create their best dish, followed by a blind taste test to determine the winner.
“I took the opportunity even though I would have had to leave New York again and this time leave my catering business in the hands of my business partner alone for about one month, to move to California. But I don’t regret it because it was a fantastic experience. I learned my strengths and the importance of drive. I learned a lot from Anthony Bourdain particularly, like how to manage my timing. That entire experience is something that I couldn’t learn anywhere else.”
Life after these two challenges didn’t just change Natasha’s professional career, but also her personal life.
“Yes, I did have professional growth from those experiences but it also forced me to take a step back and look at my personal life. I wanted to change things. I was catering for five years but I knew I needed a new perspective so I closed the business. It was hard because that decision affected my business partner and my employees. At home, I brought my marriage to an end after 14 years. I moved from New York to Florida, changing my focus and redirecting my next steps in the food world. I had always feared the restaurant world based on the things I’d heard and perceptions. But after giving everything up and moving to Florida I knew it was time to face those fears and go into the restaurant world to learn new skills and master another aspect of the food world”, she explained.
“Now that the dust has cleared, I am teaching at the Arts Institute of Tampa Bay. This is my way of giving back; to teach the importance of passion in the industry,” she added keenly. “I have been teaching for years, even before I started my catering business. It was actually one of my first paid jobs transitioning from the corporate world into food – teaching high and middle school cooking classes.”
And that’s not all!
Natasha, now 37 years old, recently became the sous chef, aka second in command in the kitchen, with Nordstrom Restaurant Group which is a part of the Nordstrom Brand, an upscale American fashion retailer.
She is also planning a food tour for the Caribbean, folks!
The once little Bajan girl from Christ Church, Barbados has plans to make it her mission for everyone to taste her passion – authentic Caribbean cuisine. And at the same time teach those tours how the food was the cohesive means to the Caribbean cultures, influences and histories. “The foods we grew up with that we love so dearly and which is a major part of our culture is slowly fading away. I believe it’s the missing link when one visits Barbados. The goal with this tour is to show the world that the tropics does have something authentic to lend to the foodie world.”
When asked if she had any last minute advice to anyone who wanted to follow their dreams like she did she was adamant that passion is the key!
“If you are really passionate about something, whether it’s cooking or not – have the strength to go after it hard. There will be obstacles there is no doubt about that – there will be challenges but put your head down, stick to it and you will see it through – guaranteed. The work is extremely challenging in the culinary and service industries – you work truly hard but the rewards are significant so if it is your passion – go for it!”Chef Natasha Forde
Words by Tracy Moore
Read Natasha’s 5 Lessons I Learned from Competing on Cutthroat Kitchen HERE.