Ayesha Curry Is Building A Massive Food Empire To Make Our Lives Way Easier
"I feel like I can help people keep their family relationships alive and bring people together through food. Who wouldn't want to do that?"
If you visit Ayesha Curry's personal website, you'll find a section titled "Watch," which houses the 80 Youtube videos that launched her booming food and lifestyle empire. Each tutorial and vlog topic varies, from ham and cheese waffles to family vacations to "what's in my toddler bag," but they all showcase what the 29-year-old entrepreneur, wife, and mom of three loves most: food, family, and functionality. "That's kind of why I started on this journey of being in the culinary and lifestyle world," Curry told me after a recent Tasty video shoot. "Because I feel like I can help people keep their family relationships alive and bring people together through food. Who wouldn't want to do that?" That last question confirms what Curry's brand claims: she is, in fact, a nerd (and unabashedly so) of the highest order. An expert whose comprehensive knowledge of DIY culinary skills, motherhood, and personal development comes from taking passionate deep dives, head first, into her happy place.
We're talking about a person who in her 2015 vlog "Harvesting Honey From Bees" is grinning way, way harder than anyone holding a bee-covered panel of honey with their bare hands should be grinning. But between clicking on that startling thumbnail and watching Curry proudly fill a tiny mason jar with her homemade honey, I felt my screw-face morph into that pouty, heart-eye expression one makes when they've been convinced that they too would like to host a beehive in their backyard, except they don't have a backyard so maybe their living room? This is the Ayesha Curry effect, the one that's amassed her 30+ million views on Youtube and 6.1 million followers on Instagram. She's a self-proclaimed "believer" who convinces audiences worldwide to do just that, whether that's motivating home chefs with a no-fuss, Instagram-ready line of kitchenware, empowering children and adults alike to grow healthy foods with DIY kitchen herb garden kits, or celebrating the beauty and comforts of a happy home with an affordable, luxe bedding collection. "Anything that I can do to make our lives easier, I'm down for," she said. "Nothing's ever going to be too fussy or complicated. It is what it is."
Her unfussy mentality matches that of the late Julia Child who, like Curry, had no professional culinary training prior to her astronomical rise. Perhaps it's the key to their multi-hyphenated success, both as celebrity home chefs, cookbook authors, television hosts, and overall businesswomen. "Find something you're passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it," Child famously said. Having already nailed the former and committed to the latter, Curry spoke with me about her underdog culinary beginnings, her careful entrepreneurial process, and her lifelong mission to making healthy eating and happy living accessible to all.
What was it like getting into the food and culinary world? It seems like such an exclusive industry.
Yeah, and I have to say it is very exclusive, and I feel like I came in and just jumbled crap up. People like Chef Michael Mina have been very helpful along the way, helping me get my foot into the door. One thing that he told me was you can go to culinary school and you can learn the basic skills you need, but you can't learn flavor and you can't learn finesse. So he told me to just own it and go head first, and that's what I've been doing. I feel like passion fuels success, and so in the culinary world, I've driven myself completely off of passion, a firm work ethic, creativity, and inventiveness and I feel like it's worked for me.
There's always naysayers and people who are going to kind of turn their nose down on you and say that you're not good enough, but it's about learning how to tune them out, take the good, and let the good fuel you. And that's what I've done. But yeah, the industry in general, especially from a professional culinary standpoint, is very male-dominated, and it has been for years. It's not an industry I thought I could be a part of, and so to be a part of it now and to be part of the shift and the change has been really, really cool.
And you've brought your family into the business side of things too, like with your new wine.
Yes, I have with my sister-in-law Sydel. We have our wine Domaine Curry. We managed to partner up with an amazing vintner John Schwartz and he is big-time in Napa, so I feel like we did it right. Our whole brand and ethos is Femme 31. It's basically based off of Proverbs 31 [in the bible], The Virtuous Woman. There's a verse 31:16 and it says, “The virtuous woman takes her earnings, buys a field, and plants a vineyard.” And so, that was the base of our wines and the whole company. We like to say it's bold, sassy, and vibrant, just like all of the women in our family. And we're really proud of it. It's had a successful run so far and the wine critics have been giving it tremendous ratings, so we're really happy.
Speaking of family, in what ways does your cultural background influence your cooking? Because, me personally, I'm Jamaican-
Yeah, me too!
I know! And my partner is Chinese, and we're foodies who love foods from all over the place. So talk a bit about how you infuse your cultural upbringing into your work.
My cultural upbringing is everything when it comes to my food. My mom's Chinese and Jamaican, my dad's Polish and black, and so like I had this melting pot [growing up]. And I just did 23andMe, so we'll see what else comes back. Who knows? I love that I can be kind of like a poster child for cultures fusing together and coming together and a poster child of family and togetherness because food really is love. Everywhere you go in the world, food is a love language and so people can all relate to that. It's honestly why Chef Michael and I started our restaurants International Smoke. There are so many different flavors throughout different cultures, like everybody barbecues in their own, special way, and so we have this restaurant to showcase all of those special methods of barbecuing in one place. It brings people together and that's my whole message.
You've also released a very cool kitchen herb garden with Back to the Roots. Talk about that project and how you found out about it.
Back to the Roots is an amazing Oakland-based company. The founders Alex and Nikhil met at Cal Berkeley and started this company out of their dorm room. They basically started growing mushrooms from recycled coffee grinds and eventually implemented their [indoor gardening kits and aquaponics fish tanks] into school systems, helping and aiding teachers so that they can grow herbs in the class and show the cycle of life and where food comes from. I do a lot of work with No Kid Hungry and I would literally go into a classroom and be like, “Do you know where this tomato comes from?” And you would be shocked to know how many kids are like, “Oh, from the grocery store.” They don't actually know where their produce and their ingredients are coming from, and so this is a great way to show how it gets on the table from a seed stage. That's why I initially got involved.
And then this passion for gardening grew within me. I'm so obsessed with getting my hands in the dirt, and it just makes cooking that much more valuable. And I feel accomplished because I'm like, “Here's some pasta. Oh, and by the way, I grew that basil.” I'm lucky enough that I have a yard to be able to garden and I was really successful at it, but I have all these friends, girlfriends, and family members that don't have yards. They do have a window sill in their homes though, and you can grow herbs and veggies just as easily in a window sill as you can in a garden. That's why I partnered with Back to the Roots on these herb gardening kits — so that everybody can have an opportunity to garden and feel accomplished.
How do you go about deciding which projects you'll work on and who you'll partner with?
I like to pride myself on being genuine and forming organic partnerships. [My manager] Danielle will tell you, we turn down like 95% of what comes in. Everything that I sell I have in my home and I use on a daily basis. My bedding, my cookware, that's stuff that I use and that's honestly why I created it — because I wasn't finding what I liked and what I wanted. I created what I liked for myself so I could use it, and so the fact that anybody else is buying it is great. I don't do anything to hawk product and I don't do anything that isn't real, so people never have to worry about that with me.
My CoverGirl partnership, too. I love their products and use them every day. CoverGirl was even the first lipstick that I ever purchased as a little girl. I remember my mom letting me go and pick out a lipstick, and I picked out like this ugly pink shade that was not suited for my skin tone, but I loved it, of course, and I wore it everyday. So that stuck with me over the years.
Accessibility seems to be very important to you in terms of making culinary things and food accessible to all kinds of people. Can you talk about that?
I feel like we're doing a million things at once. And as a young professional and a mom, I totally understand how limited time is. So my goal is to make it that much easier for people and myself to get into the kitchen and prepare a meal. And being able to create these resources for people and help make their lives a little bit easier means the world to me. And I feel like it all stems down to the kids and our future generations. If we instill a sense of happy, healthy eating in them, and they'll feel like they have the options to pick and choose what they want to eat. If they want to grow things in their home, we give them those basic skills and they can. That's the foundation for them to lead healthier lifestyles as they grow up. I didn't grow up like that. Our parents just didn't know, so it's not faulting them. But now I'm old enough to know the difference and things are becoming more apparent to us. That's why creating avenues for people to have easily accessible healthy eating habits is like the best thing for me. I love being a source for that and hopefully helping to shape and shift our future generations.
What do you want people to know about you, and the food empire that you're building?
I want them to know that I don't play no games! [Laughs] I'm joking. No, I just want people to know that I'm really in everything that I do. I like for it to be approachable, because I'm human just like everybody else. So when you go to purchase a product or are looking into something that I'm creating, just know that it's going to create an ease of life and make things just a little bit easier.
And if you could cook a meal with any food professional, past or present, who would it be?
For sure, Julia Child. Like, what? Absolutely! But I don't know, [what we'd cook]. Whatever her favorite thing to make was. Maybe beef bourguignon, one of her specialties. Just layer on the butter, thick. That's what I'd be down to do. She's just so inspiring. She's the one who came in and like changed the game for real. You know what I mean? Just so unassuming. People looked down on her and she became this huge phenomenon and legend. It's just amazing. She's one amazing human being, so that would have fun to have dinner with her.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.