Get to Know ‘Top Chef’ Finalist Chef Adrienne Cheatham

Author: Kristen McCloud / Photos: Valine Brana
10.19 / MB Series

After securing a spot as first runner-up on Top Chef during its fifteenth season, Adrienne Cheatham's career has only continued to grow. Her love for delicious food and philanthropy has led her to many ventures, including developing healthy school lunch programs and founding her Sunday Best pop-up series in Harlem. We spoke with Adrienne about what drives her, who she looks up to, what she loves about southern food, and more. Check it out below!

You recently got married and made your own cake for your wedding! Talk about a #bossbride. Were all of the other bakers too intimidated to bake your cake or did you plan on making your own all along?
Haha, talk about #nochill! I knew I wanted to do something; after years of working events it’s hard to attend one (even my own) where there’s not something I’m responsible for. There was no way I was going to do the gumbo, étouffée, or any of the savory food that would have required more prep and time, so the cake was the easiest thing to do!

Many people were shocked about your exit on Top Chef but you handled it with such grace and poise. Do you have any advice for women who suffer disappointment in their careers?
Unfortunately, stuff happens all of the time, no matter what career you’re in. The only thing you have complete control over is yourself and how you react to it. I’ve worked around some people in my career that expected me to get emotional or crumble when things got tough because I’m a woman, and I just couldn’t let them have the satisfaction of confirming their stereotypes. Besides, there’s no crying in baseball (which is from A League of Their Own). You’re putting yourself out there and your work is a part of you, but you have to be able to separate hurt and disappointment to see what you need to do to grow; then let that emotion push the hell out of you.

When it comes to cooking, what are your greatest inspirations?
It may sound strange but my greatest inspirations are hardship and adversity. They force you to recognize the value of every little thing. Some of the best cuisines and cooking techniques have come from them, and people have learned how to coax beauty out of scraps because they had to. Some of the most amazing music and art have come from them. They make you appreciate the things you have to work with and want to make the most of everything you have.

If you could make a full course meal for any five people, living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would love to bring together everyone on this list to talk about food and life; the conversation would flow even more than the wine and time would pass without notice. Everyone would have a different perspective and would challenge each other to think about things in different ways.

1) Stephen Hawking - his mind seems to have dissected information differently, but he had a great sense of humor and wit. Even with incredible knowledge he still seemed approachable and fun. I would have loved to have dinner with him and talk about anything and everything.

2) Lena Richard - she was an amazing chef and entrepreneur. She owned restaurants, a frozen food line, a cooking school, and had a television show all in the South during segregation. Her knowledge and beautiful smile would bring so much to the table (literally).

3) Emmett Till - that young man experienced the worst of humanity. I would like to feed him and keep him in a place where he knows how beautiful and valued he is.

4) Oprah Winfrey - she is an amazing person who has accomplished seemingly impossible endeavors in life, and it would be so amazing to have her at a dinner party!

5) Michelle Obama - she’s a girl from the south side of Chicago, like me. She is intelligent and always exudes grace and poise while still being a real person; I’d love to toast and dine with her.

Your new dinner series, Sunday Best, is inspired by your southern roots. What can visitors expect when they come to dine?
Guests can expect a great time! We like to bring people together over a shared love of food and life experiences. There will be ingredients and components that people are familiar with and things that may not be as well known in southern cuisine. All of these get blended with cuisines of other cultures to show how easy it is to break down barriers if you want to.

What are your favorite southern foods to make?
I’m a sucker for a good pot of collard greens. It’s a complete meal and nourishes my soul. I also love making southern seafood dishes that use like gumbo, étouffée, and soups because you can really love up on them and layer flavors intensely.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
To me, MISSBISH means empowerment. It’s owning your craft, your style, your voice, and unapologetically doing your thing.

Who is your MISSBISH?
I have several MISSBISHes! I’ve met so many women who are on top of their game and continuing to push, but my sister stands out. She’s so intuitive and can handle almost any situation, she’s a VP at her company, has a husband and baby, and still manages to look great and can still party with the best of them! She’s always had this screw you attitude that I admire.

What are 3 hidden gems in NYC?
This is hard, I don’t want to blow up my spots, but…

1) Clay is the best restaurant in Harlem. No detail in the food or wine/beverage program is missed and everything is on point while still being casual and approachable. It’s upscale, but a place you can eat at a couple of times a week (and my husband and I do!).

2) The Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Harlem. Growing up near the University of Chicago, I have a thing for Gothic architecture and this soaring cathedral is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, inside and out. Sometimes I’ll just sit outside or at a pew in the back and stare at the beauty; I feel humbled, at peace, and calm.

3. ROKC, which is also in Harlem. They have the best ramen in the city (the different broths are all amazing), well-executed apps, and their bar program is insane. You can tell that they take such pride in everything they do.

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