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As the child of Liberian and Guinean immigrants who worked fulltime, Oliver grew up cooking for himself and his brother. “My first dish was probably eggs,” he says with his big laugh. As a high school senior faced with career decisions, he chose the only thing off the vo-tech list that looked familiar: culinary track. The gifted instructor “blew my mind,” says Oliver. “I never looked at cooking as a profession—I just cooked to eat.” Oliver went deep into celebrity chefs, top restaurants, and gourmet magazines. Oliver still loves the fancy stuff, but his motivation is the joy on people’s faces when they taste his food and talk together.
At the Boys and Girls Club where he is chef, the kids know that they can’t just pepper him with “Mr. Oliver! What’s for dinner!” when they see him: he wants a conversation, find out how they’re doing, visit with them during the dinner he made them. Oliver has his hands full cooking for 400 kids daily, as well as Culinary Services by Chef Oliver where he caters and makes prepared foods, mostly vegan and gluten-free. Oliver has an educator’s heart, explaining how West African jollof rice is the parent dish for Cajun jambalaya.
Daily, Oliver researches and posts snippets of black history to Facebook to satisfy his love for history, his desire to educate, and to correct balance in the history books. He also hosts cooking videos called Quick ’N Easy with Chef Oliver on the TCP Network. If he ever decided to open his own restaurant, it would be West African food served home-style: “Like you are entering somebody’s home and the bowl gets passed around, the platter is there; I feel it’s a conversation, getting to know each other, who are you talking to, what are you talking about.”
Find Chef Oliver’s ready-to-eat meals and jarred jams at Lemon Street Market. Contact Chef Oliver for catering at 717.615.6255