Jessie Ritter Wightkin (Rho, University of Alabama) is making her mark on the New Orleans culinary scene, one of the hottest food scenes in the world. Jessie grew up in the New Orleans area and has had a passion for the cuisine since an early age. She is using her extraordinary talents and giving back to the community she loves so dearly on a daily basis.
Jessie began her culinary career as the shrimp, onion, and potato peeler at Commander’s Palace where she worked her way up to Pastry Chef and spent 4 years learning everything she could. She left the Commander’s Palace to take an AmeriCorp position at the Edible Schoolyard (one of the Emeril Foundation’s projects) which teaches underserved students in inner city schools to farm organically and cook seasonally.
Jessie is currently a culinary arts teacher at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA). NOCCA is an arts high school where admission is granted by audition only. Jessie teaches students that aspire to be chefs in a pre-professional four year program. This prestigious program was founded in collaboration with the Emeril Lagasse Foundation and is supported by Johnson & Wales University. Jessie also spends time teaching community culinary classes to adults that promote a healthy lifestyle on a budget.
But teaching is just the tip of the iceberg for Jessie! Over the past few years Jessie also got involved with the budding New Orleans food truck scene with Taceaux Loceaux and worked on the syndicated cooking show Chef Jeff: Family Style as the food stylist and sous chef. Taceaux Loceaux was recently featured on the Travel Channel in Anthony Bourdain’s show, The Layover. It was also just named of the top 20 food trucks in the nation by Smithsonian Magazine. Taceaux Loceaux has gained quite a following in New Orleans, with their unique and tasty tacos that span the world’s cuisines. On Chef Jeff: Family Style, she even filmed an episode as his guest chef and then an episode with her students competing against each other – what a way to blend her passions!
Jessie also volunteers her time and talents in numerous ways. She sits on the board of the Keller Library Community Kitchen, a demonstration kitchen that teaches many cooking classes to participants of all ages. She has volunteered as a chef coordinator for two Emeril Lagasse Foundation fundraisers, Beer and Boudin, and the Carnival du Vin Gala. This past January, she coordinated chefs for the Super Bowl Taste of the NFL, the NFL’s biggest fundraiser.