Interview with Momma Cherri, star of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares

Momma Cherri’s Soul Food Shack was a cover of Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares in 2005 and today it’s still just as busy despite that restaurant closing 13 years ago. Nick Mosley asks the questions.

I’m Charita “Momma Cherri” Jones. I was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia in the United States. I moved to London in 1978 and in 2000 decided to make Brighton my home.

I had many careers: professional stage manager, theater teacher, singer in a pop-funk-gospel group, chef and caterer and YouTuber. I am an equality activist and a foster family with 85 children.

How did you get into the restaurant world?

I have always cooked since I was young. My mother was a single mother, so as the eldest, I was responsible for taking care of my siblings, including feeding them. I have always enjoyed throwing parties and cooking for my friends and family.

I come from a long line of cooking matriarchs in my family, learning from my aunts and grandmother. As a student, I lived in Mexico for a year and then in France and quickly appreciated the differences in the world diet. Food is my love language.

How would you describe your cooking style?

Unpretentious comfort food, home cooked, sticky to your ribs, soul food. It’s healthy, full of flavor and filled with fresh ingredients.

Is it the same food you enjoy at home, or do you have other favorite cuisines?

Yes, the food I cook for others is the food I cook at home. I love food from all over the world and my husband and I enjoy trying new foods whenever we travel.

You once appeared on Garden Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares TV show. Was it a good experience?

It was amazing. He came back to the kitchen with an empty plate!. I learned a lot from him, and I know he learned a thing or two from me.

What did you do after you closed your Soul Food Shack and Momma Cherri’s Big House in Little East Street, Brighton?

I went back to foster care and also worked with inmates at Lewes Prison. For a while I went to Dublin to help out a struggling Cajun restaurant where I trained their chefs and passed on the knowledge Gordon had taught me.

I then launched a Youtube channel with my daughter, which is doing very well. We have over 189,000 subscribers and really love the support from Brighton and the wider UK.

I also organize cooking experiences on AirBnB, where people come to learn how to cook a few dishes and then we have a meal together.

What other charity work have you been involved in and why?

I support The Starr Trust and have worked extensively with them to raise funds. I particularly like the association because it offers incredible support to children by encouraging them and helping them achieve their dreams.

I also worked with the Purple People food bank during the pandemic.

I cooked over 100 dishes each week, using ingredients that had been donated to the food bank.

This meant that hundreds of people received cooked meals alongside food donated by supermarkets.

What have you been up to this summer and what about your next residency at Coopers Cask in Hove?

I’ve been very busy making appearances at many independent breweries in Sussex, serving up my soul food classics.

I also recently became chef-in-residence at the Cooper Cask on Farm Road in Hove. I do September 8 and 22, then every Thursday in October from 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. We’ll be celebrating Black History Month in October, with a number of special events including live music, a quiz night and more.

Can people learn to cook with you?

Yes! I host culinary experiences from my new studio kitchen. I am also available to give lessons at your home, or as part of an event.

Any other future plans you can reveal?

We were very fortunate to have been selected to be part of a special program launched by YouTube to inspire and support black creators with training, mentorship and funding to help elevate our ideas and strengthen our channel.

I’ve used part of the fund to help with rebranding, a new website, and renovating my old garage into a new cooking studio where I can invite people to learn about my soul food journey and share my passion for cooking.

I’m also in the process of tossing my hand-mixed Cajun seasoning – I call it my love dust.

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