Ciroc Vodka sautéed apples with homemade onion rings/ Grilled salmon in a sherry wine sauce with a spicy pea puree/ Breaded salmon in a parmesan shrimp sauce. Those are some of the mouth-watering cuisines aspiring chef Darianna Jackson whips up in the family’s home kitchen.
Jackson, 17, makes up one-half of Mz Fredia’s Catering she operates with her mom, Alfredia Jackson. This mother-and-daughter catering duo blends classic American dishes with southern comfort foods.
“I get happy when I cook, and I’m happy when people eat and enjoy it,” said Alfredia Jackson, whose catering business grew out of selling dinners to employees at Chicago Public Schools headquarters.
The teen calls it a passion they both share, born from a family tradition of eating Sunday dinners together.
“I am a family-oriented person and cooking goes deep within our family,” she said.
So Alfredia Jackson was not surprised when her youngest daughter decided to become part of the catering business, which they operate out of their Oak Park home. Her other children are cooks in their own right. Her son, Darnell, makes custom cakes, a talent shared by his sister Keshia, who died in 2011 from complication from weight-loss surgery.
But when Jackson joined the business last year, she added a healthier, more elegant twist to the menu with her take on American classic food fare.
“She took our catering business to another level. She went more into the grits and shrimps, stuffed chicken breast with spinach. She took soul food and made it look pretty, fancy,” her mom said.
Jackson, though, had an ulterior motive — she wanted to change her eating habits to get ready for prom.
“I started baking stuff,” said Jackson, who’s in senior year at Oak Park and River Forest High School. “My mom likes to fry everything. Everything is fried. So I’m like ‘everything can’t be fried, because fried foods are not good for you.'”
Her sister’s death also prompted the family to eat healthier, using chicken and turkey as a substitute for beef and pork to make stews, steaks and even turkey chops.
“Everything that everybody else eats, I turn it around and do it with chicken and turkey,” Alfredia said.
The mother-daughter duo says the success of the business is due to not only the great food but also plate presentation, something stressed by Jackson’s older sister, Keshia.
“It has to look nice, neat, and elegant,” Jackson said.
And although she knows her way around a kitchen, she admits cooking wasn’t her first career choice. The young chef wanted to be a veterinarian. Growing up, the family always had pets, but when her dog died she found relief in cooking.
“It just came natural,” said Jackson, who complemented her culinary skills by watching cooking shows with her sister. “That’s why I want to be a chef now. I love cooking. It is really fun.”
As for her cooking style, she couldn’t pinpoint it exactly but described it as more “experimental.” Often she wakes up with an idea and tries it out on her family.
“I will go into the kitchen and make something and my mom would say ‘Whatcha making’ and I would say, ‘I don’t know but we’ll find out,” she said, sharing a laugh with her mom, who offers advice to help round out the dish.
“When I wake up and I want to cook, I’m going to cook to my best potential, because I’m trying to get better,” Jackson said.
The teens also heeded some sage advice from a church member who advised her that everyone is born with a talent, but must go to school to perfect it. Jackson plans to attend New York City’s Institute for Culinary Education after high school.
For now, she’s taking pride in her first catering job: a dinner for 20 people.
On the menu: parmesan chicken, sweet and spicy shrimp on mashed potato and a three magic word cake — a layered chocolate cake with chocolate, caramel and toffee frosting between layers.
Though admittedly nervous about the event, she said it’s different cooking for family instead of 20 complete strangers. It’s easy, she said, to brush off criticism from family, but she worried that the dinner guests wouldn’t like the entree.
“But they liked it and it turned out nice,” Jackson said, her mom adding: “She knocked that one out by herself. I was worried because it was a lot of people, but she did it.”
The Enterprize Zone is a regular business feature in Austin Weekly News