Photo Credit: Bryan Derballa
Meet Latoya Shauntay Snell: The Founder Of Running Fat Chef
If you’ve crossed paths with Latoya Shauntay Snell, founder of Running Fat Chef, you know what it is to meet the progeny of a volcano and a hurricane. She’s a tour de force who tackles challenges with finesse and courage. Her acidic wit enables her to take down haters with dry scalps online, and her clapbacks are so clever, you’ll wish you’d thought of them first.
The name of her business, Running Fat Chef, celebrates the intersection of what Latoya is; a plus-sized athlete who is dynamite in the kitchen. She’s also an activist, writer, and photographer— and whether she’s preparing a knockout meal, or spending time with her husband and son, everything she does is seasoned with passion.
But for all her toughness, Latoya isn’t afraid to be vulnerable, and the frankness with which she expresses herself is endearing. She has no interest in playing the game in order to be palatable to everybody. If you can’t swallow all of who she is, she’ll flash her winning smile and tell you to choke.
On Facebook and Instagram, Latoya posts pictures of delectable meals she’s prepared, and it’s obvious she cooks from the heart. The way she presents her food matters almost as much as how it tastes, since after all, it’s called the culinary arts for a reason. And if you can tear your eyes from the sesame pan-seared salmon, the French toast, and the flank steak, the captions are worth a read, which not only explain what the meal is, but what crossed Latoya’s mind while making it.
“I think of the kitchen table as a collector of stories exchanged through meals, and I curate my (social media) feed in a similar manner,” she said to Travel Noire. “I love being able to share my thoughts on what that meal sparked in me, or how I can inspire others to feel more comfortable in the kitchen. Food and written words are storytellers in their own, unique way. It only makes sense for me to combine both worlds with love, humor, and education.”
Latoya explained that her interest in cooking stemmed from childhood.
“It was one of my favorite pastimes, because it afforded me opportunities of normalcy with my father, Leon. He used cooking as a muse to shift his emotions or convince people to communicate with each other.”
Through home cooking, Leon was able to break down a person’s walls, and get them to open up in ways they hadn’t before, something Latoya admires to this day. For her, food is not only required to sustain life, it promotes healing. Many years before she became a public figure with a sizable following, Latoya knew struggle intimately. Food was then, as it is now, her saving grace.
“My family and I didn’t have much,” she admitted. “Some nights we weren’t sure if we would be able to eat because we were too poor— some would refer to this as a food desert. For a year straight, we ate chicken and homemade dumplings because it was all we could afford to purchase, and my bodega allowed us to run up credit until we reached a breaking point. I grew tired of it, but I knew my family did their best. That’s love to me. ”
Even as Latoya’s family struggled to make ends meet, their sense of compassion never faltered. They invited hungry children from the neighborhood to eat with them when possible, even when pride and embarrassment prevented those children from admitting they were hungry in the first place.
“I knew that when we ate and had opportunities to nourish those in our community with the little we had, it was love,” Latoya said. “Food is not just food, honestly, at least not to people like me. It’s a gateway to nonverbally articulating how you feel about a person.”
Latoya studied under Chef DeVoria Simmons while attending Star Career Academy of New York.
“Chef Simmons was one of the few Black chef instructors that I remember being there. She taught me about discipline, because she wouldn’t have it any other way. Through her, I learned about food safety and how to honor my voice in the kitchen and beyond.”
The culinary world, like many others, can be passive-aggressive towards Black people, something Latoya knows all too well.
“As a Black woman in the culinary industry, people tend to stereotype you, or accuse you of being ‘emotional’ when you’re in a position of leadership.”
Clearly, this didn’t hinder Latoya in the slightest, and she went on to accrue over 10 years of restaurant, catering, and corporate dining experience.
Any plans Latoya might have had to open her own restaurant were put to rest by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the horror stories it spawned.
“More than the financial aspect, I worry about the time and labor I’d be required to invest. So many small businesses, particularly restaurants, fail in the first 3 – 5 years. If I ever do it, I want to make sure that I have the time, energy, and money.”
Typical for Latoya, she thinks beyond herself, and muses over what her culinary expertise can do for others.
“I would love to create a program where I’d be able to teach underprivileged children how to craft flavorful, healthy meals on a tight budget. I want to create something that I was fortunate enough to learn from my own family. For now, I’ll continue to pay it forward virtually, and hope that one day I’ll be able to bring this dream to fruition.”