Chef Roshara Sanders makes history as first Black female instructor at Culinary Institute: 'The industry needs to shift'

Katie Mather
·4-min read

Chef Roshara Sanders is breaking barriers in the cooking world.

At 30 years old, Sanders is the first Black female instructor at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The prestigious establishment was founded in 1946.

“The CIA’s been around since the 1940s, and I’m the first Black woman [instructor] and it’s 2020, and that’s a problem,” Sanders told the New York Post in an interview.

Sanders graduated from CIA in 2014 and went on to win a season of the Food Network’s competition show, “Chopped” the following year.

While her notoriety in the cooking world is relatively new — she is the current chef de partie at Oceana in midtown Manhattan and served in the Army for six years before starting at CIA — Sanders has been immersed in cooking and helping others since she was 4 years old.

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#ChefRo

Sanders grew up living in Habitat for Humanity housing with her single mother, who used cooking herself to cope with addiction problems. Cooking immediately became an escape for Sanders too, as she started out in the Habitat for Humanity house’s kitchen making rice.

Cooking brought Sanders and her mom together, and for that, Sanders says she’s eternally grateful for the Habitat for Humanity home.

“Our industry takes anyone … We take felons, we take addicts — we rehabilitate people, and I saw that with my own eyes,” Sanders told The Post. “I don’t know my father, and food really brought my mom and me together.”

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Sanders still works extensively with Habitat for Humanity to this day. Her instructors at the technical high school she attended in Bridgeport, Conn., also helped encourage her to apply to CIA.

“When I saw the school, I saw myself. I had a vision,” she said. “This is the Harvard, the Yale, the Princeton of cooking, and I’m gonna have to be here.”

Sanders enlisted in the Army to take advantage of the GI Bill, which helped pay her way through CIA. Sanders’ experience in the Army also added fuel to her passion for helping others through cooking.

“I want to hire veterans, women/men who have been through domestic violence. Whatever I do will be social impact-driven and the rest will follow,” she told Cuisine Noir Magazine. “Lead by example is the best way to do it. I am partnering with more organizations that believe in what I believe in.”

During her time at CIA, Sanders said she only encountered one Black male instructor.

“I’m not saying they hired me because I’m a person of color, because I can do the job, but they needed a woman of color to break through the glass ceiling so that I can train the next generation,” Sanders said. “The industry needs to shift, and I feel like I can get them to do that from the inside.”

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Even with a degree from CIA, recognition from “Chopped” and her status as a James Beard-affiliated chef — the food industry’s highest honor — Sanders said she still deals with racism and sexism in the kitchen.

“At Oceana, I had an employee who was nasty to me, who would bully me, and I just out-cooked him,” she said. “Your skills will speak. When I walk through the kitchen, you’re gonna respect me because I served my country and I’m gonna out-cook you. And if I don’t know something, I’m gonna learn it and I’m gonna come back better.”

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