The Fit Chef
Andre Carthen blazed a unique path FROM up-and-coming performer to a culinary powerhouse — with help from a few world-famous women along the way.
Chef Andre Carthen has worked with some of the world’s biggest celebrities — Janet Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Vanessa Williams, Kathy Ireland — but he might never have ended up a chef if not for one very well-timed gift basket.
At the time, Carthen was an actor, dancer and singer who loved to cook in his free time. One year, Carthen was looking for a way to show his appreciation to his management team; so, he says, “I sort of just baked up a huge holiday basket!”
Supermodel Kathy Ireland also happened to be part of the same management team. Though Carthen couldn’t have known it then, Ireland was so impressed — both by his food and the thoughtfulness of his gesture — that she would ultimately change his life.
CALLED TO THE KITCHEN
Carthen didn’t start out cooking for the rich and famous. He was born in Connecticut and, he says, “raised on [his] mother’s apron strings.” But something other than his mother seems to have been calling Carthen into the kitchen from a very early age. “My mom told me that she woke up at 3am when I was little, and I was just sitting on the kitchen floor with everything pulled out of the cabinets,” he says, “conjuring up something in the middle of the night.” He’d go on to cook often for his mother and sister as he grew up. But Carthen’s career was calling him away from the kitchen — specifically to act, sing and dance on Disney’s Fantasy cruise liner. It was there he met Chef Johnny Rivers, who was then executive chef at Disney World. Though Carthen still saw himself as a performer at the time, he sees Rivers as having “started [his] culinary curiosity,” Carthen remembers. “[Rivers] was the first African-American chef I had ever met and the fact that he was an executive chef was so awesome!” Though his brush with Rivers had planted Carthen’s first ideas of a culinary career, his next step was to move to New York City to pursue acting. He laughs heartily as he remembers nights of cooking for his fellow theater gypsies. “I was like the big rooster or mother hen,” he says. “I would tell them late at night: Don’t get fast food! Get over here, and I’ll make a mess of greens, a pumpkin pie.”
When Carthen was cast in Kiss of the Spider Woman, which then starred Vanessa Williams, the idea of working with a well-known performer was initially intimidating. “I heard the horror stories about some of the stars who you weren’t supposed to look at — much less talk to,” Carthen recalls. Fortunately, Vanessa did not turn out to be that kind of diva. They even ended up sharing meals together on more than one occasion. “She was like: Let’s just hang!” Carthen says.
Perhaps Carthen’s highest-profile acting performance came when he moved to LA and was cast as Harry Belafonte in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry. But even after that success, he ended up attending audition after fruitless audition. One day, he found himself in an elevator, looking around at his fellow actors, running lines and panicking, and he thought to himself, “I don’t know if I can do this forever.”
Thanks to Kathy Ireland, he wouldn’t be doing it much longer at all.
FOOD COMES TO THE FOREFRONT
About a year after she had sampled his holiday gift basket, Ireland approached Carthen. “She was starting a food and entertainment brand for her company,” Carthen remembers. And she wanted Carthen on board.
Supermodel-turned-CEO Kathy Ireland (whose 1989 Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover is still that magazine’s best-selling issue of all time) had evolved into an accomplished businesswoman. Founded in 1993, kathy ireland Worldwide (kiWW) serves a wide range of consumers with a product line that includes fashion, jewelry, skin care, accessories, and furnishings for home, office and outdoors. (She also recently launched a pet line and is kicking off a shoe line!) Listed as the 28th-most-powerful brand globally, kiWW boasts annual merchandise sales of $2 billion. Ireland has even graced the cover of Forbes, which dubbed her “Super Model, Super Mogul.”
The job Ireland was offering would require Carthen to wear many hats, including that of chef. Together, they developed ACafe Society, a brand that helps people learn and communicate about cooking and entertaining. “She was willing to take a huge chance on me. She gave me the courage to take the next step in my life,” he explains.
THE ESSENCE OF GREAT LIFE
Carthen says that, unlike other celebrity-fronted companies, Ireland is much more than a figurehead, and their partnership eventually extended beyond the kitchen in extraordinary ways. For example, Carthen ended up appearing in all seven of the supermodel’s Platinum Fitness videos. This helped ignite his passion for fitness and earned him his nickname: “The Fit Chef.”
This, in turn, led to his teaming with Janet Jackson on her first book, True You, a New York Times #1 best seller, to which Carthen contributed over 30 healthy meal plan recipes (check out one of them, opposite page). “I was absolutely freaking out!” Carthen says of getting the opportunity to work with the pop-music legend. “She’s an icon!”
Carthen worked with Jackson to develop a variety of meal plans, ranging from meals the singer could take on the road to recipes that would help people who battle high blood pressure. “She wanted flavor, low-sodium, family- and kid-friendly,” says Carthen.
As he experimented, Carthen conducted several mini-tastings with the singer, including one that happened to coincide with the anniversary of her brother Michael’s death. “She was so genuine, so gracious, so shy and yet so sweet on that day,” he remembers. “She was a model for how we should all conduct ourselves, no matter what we may be going through in our lives.”
Another person Carthen came to see as a model of good conduct during their time working together was Elizabeth Taylor. “Whenever Elizabeth Taylor spoke to you — no matter how many people were around or how many cameras had snapped just moments before,” he recalls, “she listened to every word, without ever losing eye contact. She was an amazing human being.”
Carthen is grateful that these iconic women touched his life. “I was mentored by some great ladies, including my mom,” he says, his face breaking into a radiant smile. “I learned that you must follow your passion and that your passion must be of service to others in some way, no matter if you’re gay, straight, black or white. If you’ve lived your life and can said, ‘I hope I have made someone’s life better,’ that’s what matters. That’s the essence of a great life.”
By Wade Rouse
Metrosource is a glossy lifestyle and entertainment magazine geared towards the modern metropolitan community. Metrosource has three editions: New York, Los Angeles and National. For more great articles like this, subscribe here or download Metrosource for iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle.
Featured recipe – ‘True You’
Roasted Corn & Cherry Tomatoes with Sweet Peas & Basil
Recipe by Chef Andre Carthen
From True You
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups sweet corn kernels (about 2 large ears, fresh corn)
- 1½ cups fresh sweet peas or frozen, thawed
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
- ¾ cup toasted pine nuts
- ¼ cup julienned basil leaves pinch chipotle powder
- 2 tablespoons olive oil salt and pepper to taste
In a large nonstick skillet set over medium-high heat, heat oil until hot. Add corn and sauté until just cooked, about 3 minutes. Transfer to bowl and let cool. Add peas, tomatoes, olive oil, chipotle powder, basil and pine nuts. Drizzle with a little olive oil, season with salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.Serve at room temperature.