For centuries, little Black girls around the world have spent time watching and learning from their mothers and grandmothers in the kitchen. Many develop the skill early in life that grows with them as they too become adults.

That was the case for Chef Whitney Thomas.

The Reidsville, North Carolina native attributes her love for cooking to her grandmother, who she affectionately calls “Muh.”

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“My family setting is where I really developed my passion for cooking,” Chef Whitney told Travel Noire. “We were the stereotypical Black family with the large Sunday dinners. At 3 years old I was in the kitchen mimicking my grandma.”

However, life would take a different turn before Chef Whitney could really dive back into her love for the kitchen.

She went on to attend The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she majored in African American studies and Exercise Sports Science. By the end of her Junior year, she realized this wasn’t what she wanted to do, so she left school.

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“The kitchen had always called me. My mom thought I was crazy to give up my full ride to college, but that wouldn’t help me do what I wanted to do.”

Whitney began working in small eateries around her college town. At one point she was even delivering pizzas.

After getting into a bad accident, she made her way back to Reidsville, which also allowed her to help care for her grandmother who was suffering from Alzheimer’s.

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After some time, Chef Whitney picked up a job at a local soul food spot. From there she moved up the ladder of several chains, but her goal was always to get into fine dining.

“I’m not classically trained, I didn’t go to culinary school at all. I just had some really great chefs that took time with me and taught me things. I also used my environment to learn more and just soaked up everything,” she said.

Related: How These Young Black Men Overcame The Odds To Become Two Of Charlotte’s Top Black Chefs

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After bouncing around some more, she made her way to Charlotte, NC. She instantly knew this was where she wanted to be.

“The food scene here is really great and it was growing. It had more to offer than where I was in Winston Salem.”

She again worked her way up the ranks in a few fine dining restaurants around the city before making her way to 5Church Charlotte. In less than a year, she was named Executive Chef, an accomplishment that isn’t common for Black women.

“Less than 10% of executive chefs are women. And even fewer are Black women. It’s very humbling. I feel like I have so much to prove. Not only that I can do it, but we can do it. But I want people to see, just give us a chance.”

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“I once had a manager tell me he didn’t like hiring women because we’re run by emotions. But women have been in the kitchen since we were small.”

Chef Whitney doesn’t let any of this stop her.

“I just keep working and show what I’m capable of.”

In this role as Executive Chef, Chef Whitney oversees all things in the kitchen. From menu creation to managing the kitchen staff and budget, as well as planning special events. She’s really doing it all.

As she continues to take 5Church Charlotte to the next level, she has her eyes set on her own restaurant one day in the future. And best believe, once she does, you’ll want to be in the building.

To catch more from Chef Whitney, check her out on Instagram: @chefwhitneythomas.