An Old, Handwritten Recipe Keeps This Chef Inspired and Focused

Her mother's cookie recipe reminds Deborah VanTrece that she is strong and capable. (And yes, the cookie is on the menu at her restaurant.)

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An Old, Handwritten Recipe Keeps This Chef Inspired and Focused
Image credit: Courtesy of Deborah VanTrece
Magazine Contributor
3 min read

This story appears in the March 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

I keep a recipe in my bedside table. It’s for chocolate chip cookies with black walnuts, and it’s handwritten by my mom, who is deceased. She received the recipe from her mother and passed it to me long before I’d go on to become a professional chef. I keep it safe in a plastic bag, and I probably look at it three or four times a month, more often if things are rough.

Related: The 'Millennial Betty Crocker' Founder of a Baking Empire Shares Her Recipe for Staying Resilient

As a child, I spent a lot of time with my mom in the kitchen. It was the place in our home where family gathered. I grew up in the Midwest during a time of civil unrest, in an era of segregation and racial tension. My mom taught me how to navigate this time, and how to free myself from boundaries set by others. When I eventually moved to Atlanta to pursue my restaurant career, I experienced some culture shock: I was a black, gay woman suddenly living in the South, working in an industry dominated by white men. A lot has been thrown at me, and there have been struggles. As a business owner, I’ve learned the importance of tenacity and the value of networking with others. In this diverse environment, I’ve found many systems of support and understanding. 

Related: These Childhood Friends Created a $100 Million Brand by Putting Frozen Greek Yogurt on a Stick

But I also still rely often upon the lessons my mother taught me. She made me realize that anything is achievable. She made me fearless: Failure is not something I entertain. And this is why I keep that cookie recipe so close to me. When I look at the recipe, it makes me feel like my mom is still with me, and it reminds me that I can face this business with confidence. My mom was a hardworking lady, and when I remember all she did for us, it gives me strength. I have other recipes from her, but the fact that this one is handwritten feels special -- she entrusted me with a piece of who she was, and it lets me have little conversations with her. 

Today, I’m the chef and owner of Twisted Soul Cookhouse and Pours in Atlanta. And, of course, Mama Helen’s Chocolate Chip Cookie is on our menu. It can put a smile on anyone’s face. 

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