The Great Ones is a celebration of humans we admire — and an exploration of why they cook, not just how. Akilah Cadet is the founder of Change Cadet, a change-management consulting firm creating cultures of belonging (that works with Great Jones!). We joined Akilah in her Oakland kitchen to discuss how cooking empowers her while she made truffle mac and cheese — a recipe that incorporates both sides of her heritage.
My grandmother taught me how to cook. She taught me all of the basics like cooking with fats and acids. My grandmother was from Donaldsonville, Louisiana, and I learned so much from her, like how to make a potato salad and what a roux is.
My parents divorced when I was about 8 or 9, so I took it upon myself to cook meals for the family. Living with a single mother, she microwaved most meals except breakfast, her favorite meal to cook. So I took it upon myself to experiment with things that weren't frozen. Now I’m a wonderful saucier; I love to make sauces. It's my jam. But at that younger age I was like, What can I do with this Prego sauce? What else can I add to it? And, Can I make my own sauce?
Now I’m a wonderful saucier; I love to make sauces. It's my jam.
I started cooking more when I graduated undergrad, and because I was out on my own, I started cooking to give myself these momentous, valuable moments where it's like, Here you go...You're an adult now. You deserve this. Or maybe, You had a hard day. You deserve this. I also really love plating food, too. I will plate food for myself, even if no one else is around, because it's a form of self-care.
I started cooking to give myself these momentous, valuable moments.
Cooking is a love language for me. I love to cook. I love to entertain. I also love to challenge myself: If I see something, I’m like, “I can probably make that,” and I give it a shot. I love cooking because I can break the rules. I’m naturally a disrupter and rebellious and a change maker.
I love cooking because I can break the rules. I’m naturally a disrupter and rebellious and a change maker.
I live with a lot of rare health conditions, so food is something that gives me power and the endurance to take my medication and make it through the day. I became disabled five years ago, and if I’m not eating X amount of food I’m not able to take my medication or recover from an illness or flare-up. For example, I don’t have enough collagen in my body, so I’ll experiment with chicken here and there and have bone broth. Food is really important to me in that way.
I was originally pre-med, and I wanted to be a pediatrician; eventually I changed to health administration. I worked in universities, hospitals, clinics, and health systems as either an evaluator, a coordinator, a director, or an executive. I got my master's and doctorate pretty young, and here I was thinking people were going to listen to me. But there is this pattern of racism and discrimination and ageism in workplaces.
Once I graduated, I found a new job. It was executive level — I felt like I had arrived. It was the salary I had dreamed of, vacation time I had dreamed of, even a parking space! My boss — a white male in his 60s — looked at me and said, “I didn't think you were that smart when we interviewed you, but you are smart.” And this was for a doctoral-level-preferred position. Here I was thinking I was valued for my work. I told him I’d have to rebuild that trust with him, and he fired me a week later.
When that happened, I was like, Oh my God, what am I going to do? There were a lot of things that happened in the workplace that put me in a position of a major depressive disorder because I was not valued or seen, or I was too young, or not young enough, or I'm Black, or maybe not Black enough, or a woman who's educated. I took a chance on myself and built out Change Cadet.
I took a chance on myself and built out Change Cadet.
I started Change Cadet when I was newly diagnosed with depression to see if I could pour into myself and see if people would actually value my work. I've had my business now for nearly eight years. We're an organizational consulting firm. We also happen to be pretty good at diversity, inclusion, and belonging. If I can help someone realize that they should be valued in that place or another place, then that means I'm doing my job. Next up, I’m working on the manuscript for my book, My Love Language Is Dismantling White Supremacy, which comes out in 2024.
Today I made truffle mac and cheese. Mac and cheese alone is a comfort food. It's something that reminds me of family gatherings and the holidays. I also just love cheese; any time I can have melted cheese I’m like, Sign me up. I started with the roux, which reminds me of my grandmother because she taught me to do that. I started with the roux in Dutch Baby — I have the Mustard one from the Molly Baz collab because yellow is my life’s accent color. I leave that Dutch oven out on my stove because it’s artwork.
I also just love cheese; any time I can have melted cheese I’m like, Sign me up.
Then I used Stir Crazy, which was great because I used three different types of cheeses and had to grate it all. By the way, if anyone makes mac and cheese from packaged grated cheese, it's a no. I grated parmesan, Gruyère, and Monterey Jack, so the bowls were great for that.
After folding in the cheese, I added truffles … because I'm a fancy bitch. They also remind me of my Haitain side. In Haiti we have a few dishes with this particular type of mushroom, and it's a black mushroom. This was just a nod to that: my Louisiana side and my Haitian side.
I added truffles … because I'm a fancy bitch.
Finally, I used Little Hottie, and it’s so cute. I have Hot Dish, but when I got Little Hottie I was like, Oh, this is for me. I’m single, I live by myself, and I hate to waste food. It’s perfect. Major depressive disorder doesn't go away, and because I live in chronic pain, it's literally always around. So things that work for me, whether it's the color or the size or even the accessibility of things, matter so much. I can use Little Hottie, and I can pick it up myself because it's not as heavy as another dish. I love the functionality of the products and the independence I can have.
When I got Little Hottie I was like, Oh, this is for me… I love the functionality of the products and the independence I can have.