Chef Angela Johnson Serves Hope One Plate at a Time

Chef Angela Johnson, affectionately known as Chef A.J., was born and raised on the southside of Fort Worth, Texas in the Eastwood community near Village Creek Park. As a teenager, she attended Burden Academy in Arlington, Texas and later graduated from Chisholm Trail Academy in Keene, Texas. As a child, she grew up loving to be in the kitchen watching her grandmother Mary Johnson prepare meals for her family. Her grandmother worked in the cafeteria as a cook at Navasota High school, and Angela loved to watch her grandmother create; whether it was at home or at the school, Angela was never too far behind.

“I started cooking when I was 16 years old, with my aunt Daisy,” she said. “I prepped the food, I learned how to make pound cakes, peach cobbler, potato salad and I also worked with the seafood. I learned how to barbecue and grill at an early age from my dad, he also owned his own BBQ restaurant. He taught me how to barbecue on an open flame grill with wood.”

Chef AJ preparing plates for an event. Courtesy photo

Chef AJ preparing plates for an event. Courtesy photo

Johnson’s culinary aspirations were placed on hold when she became a wife and mother, and after separating from her husband she became a single mother of two daughters focused on helping her children’s dreams come true instead. She waited until her daughters were older to balance pursuing her dreams as a business owner and chef.

“I officially started my catering company, A&T Catering LLC, in March 2012. My first booked event was June 2012 on a boat on Grapevine Lake,” said Chef A.J. “It’s a family owned business that I share with my daughter Takisha; she is the T in A&T and I am the A. I am the head chef and owner, my daughter is learning how to prepare and cook and I am happy that I am able to create memories with my child that I had growing up watching my grandmother. My girls: my two daughters and my granddaughter are my inspiration, without them I don’t think I would have ever started this business and pursued my dreams.”

Chef A.J. obtained most of her culinary education from Tarrant County Area Food Bank Community Kitchen. It began with signing up for a 16-week intensive culinary course.

“Attending and graduating from the program at Tarrant County Area Food Bank was an experience that prepared me with the knowledge of everything that I needed to know to become chef and open my own business,” shae explained. “ I also volunteered many hours as a student there to cook and prepare meals for the homeless daily; we made breakfast, lunch and dinner for the homeless.”

A highlight from H.O.P.E. Farm’s 2016 Back to School Bash. Courtesy photo

A highlight from H.O.P.E. Farm’s 2016 Back to School Bash. Courtesy photo

After graduating, jobs didn’t just start pouring in, but Chef A.J. stayed positive and resilient as she continued to focus on her children and providing for her family with her catering company. She kept God first and her daughters, mother and new fiancé remained a constant beacon of hope and support. Then, in 2016, she received a phone call from her former instructor, Ms.Bea, from Tarrant County Food Bank about a job lead at H.O.P.E. Farm, a non-profit organization that has created multiple programs for mentoring young boys from the inner city areas of Tarrant County. Johnson was excited for the chance to become a chef. She was greeted by a colorful vibrant garden and a sense of déjà vu as she walked in the building. This wasn’t her first time visiting H.O.P.E. Farm; her younger brother, Marques, was a part of the mentoring program when he was younger, and she’s still there preparing five meals a day for the young men. She has also personally mentored two young men that were interested in culinary arts and photography. Grant, one of her apprentices is now studying culinary arts and photography in San Antonio, and Chef A.J. continues to mentor and provide the opportunity for other future chefs.

“Getting hired by H.O.P.E. Farm was an amazing opportunity for me because I have been able to start from day one with my own recipes and inventions without the pressure of following a pre-planned meal book,” she said. “I love being a part of something bigger than myself; I am able to provide another option for these young men to learn culinary skills if they so choose. I am also happy to introduce these young men and their palates to new tastes, new cuisine that many of them would not have been exposed to before.”

With many H.O.P.E. Farm participants comes very hungry stomachs and minds, and chef A.J. provides the meals and food for thought, with recipes like “deer: the other red meat,” chicken and waffles with a twist and meatloaf made of every protein imaginable.

A colorful dish crafted by Chef AJ. Courtesy photo

A colorful dish crafted by Chef AJ. Courtesy photo

"You know the rush that a singer gets on stage and the audience loves their performance, their gifts. That's exactly how I feel every time someone enjoys a dish I've created, makes the culinary process worth while" Chef AJ said with a smile.

Johnson does have words of encouragement for future culinary artists in reference to schooling.

“I don’t — under any circumstance — suggest that any young person spend $80,000 to any culinary institute when there are inexpensive and amazing programs like the ones at Tarrant County Food Bank,” Johnson stated. “I learned so much from chefs Mannie, Bea, and Detrick; I remember that their mission statement was always that they would teach us how to become great chefs not dishwashers. They are some of the most kind, and encouraging people I have ever met.”

Although Chef A.J. grew up around many home chefs and restaurant owners she credits her grandmother Mary, and chef Tiffany Derry from Dallas, Texas as women in the culinary field that have inspired her to cook and remain true to herself within her recipes and presentations. Chef A.J. is currently the head chef for H.O.P.E. Farm and continues to operate and manage her business A&T Catering, she admits that it is a fine balance between family life and cooking. She brings her cooking home and her home cooking, and each and every dish that she prepares she sprinkles her special blend of love and hope.

Donny is an aspiring political scientist that writes with zest and a love for life and all things creative. A Texas transplant by way of Kansas, she writes content with Midwestern flavor and a southern twist. She loves to learn, loves her kids, loves tacos, and all things spiked with a good top shelf spirit.