10 to Contend: Jaden Hair

 

10 to Contend: Jaden Hair

 

Date: December 30, 2009
by: Michael Eng | Executive Editor

 
 

Perhaps no other East County resident exemplifies the term “self-made woman” better than chef Jaden Hair.

Fresh off a nationwide tour that included appearances on “The Today Show” and “The CBS Early Show” for her first cookbook, “The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook,” Hair has concocted the perfect recipe for entrepreneurial success.

Ingredients:
• 101 loving nods to your upbringing
• Several heaping scoops of personality
• A dash of perseverance
• A base of familial love and support to tie the dish together

Hair took those ingredients to her home kitchen, threw them on the stove and simmered her blog, SteamyKitchen.com, until its popularity boiled over to national and international success.

Under the guidance of Paula Deen’s literary agent, Janis Donnaud, “The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook” released to commercial and critical success, earning endorsements from Asian cooking luminaries such as Martin Yan (“Yan Can Cook”) and Ming Tsai (“Simply Ming”). The book currently is the No. 1 Chinese cookbook on Amazon.com.

Today, she’s featured on Oprah.com and works as a biweekly food columnist/photographer for Discovery Channel’s TLC.

Not bad for the talkative, bubbly mother of two from a little community called Lakewood Ranch.

Birth of a steamy chef
Hair’s tale of culinary success isn’t typical. Born in Hong Kong but spending several years in North Platte, Neb., she wasn’t the child prodigy who spent all her waking hours tugging on her mother’s apron.

In fact, it was the exact opposite.

“My mom is a fantastic cook — and she loves cooking,” Hair begins. “But, I used to hide from the kitchen. My mom used to give me all the (bad) jobs like pinching the little tails off a huge pile of bean sprouts or shelling the shrimp.”

But somewhere in those tedious jobs, Hair’s mom planted a seed that wouldn’t begin to blossom until years later. While in college, Hair — by process of elimination — became the home chef for all her friends.

“That’s when I started to think that I could cook,” Hair says. “And I got to make all my friends do (those tedious) jobs.”

New coast, new home
Hair and her husband, Scott, were living in a tiny 1920s home in San Francisco when they pulled out two maps — one of the United States and the other of the world. They wanted a change, a new location in which they could raise a family.

Together, the couple began narrowing down locations according to their criteria. By process of elimination, Florida seemed to be an option.

“We had never been to Florida, but we thought, ‘OK, well let’s go check it out,’” Hair remembers.

The next day, the couple bought plane tickets to the Sunshine State. They arrived on a Friday, and by Monday, they had fallen in love so much with the East County that they signed a contract for a home in Greenbrook.

“This is really different,” Jaden remembers thinking at the time. “But it was really neat. And it felt right.
“I thought, ‘This is home,’” she says.

‘Mad’ accident
Some of the best business ideas or products come from happy accidents. Play-Doh was supposed to be wallpaper cleaner. Silly Putty began as a rubber substitute during World War II.

Consider Hair’s blog a “mad accident.”

Waiting for Chinese takeout at an East County Asian restaurant called Bangkok Tokyo, Hair overheard a customer talking on her cell phone.

Come meet me for lunch, the lady said. I’m eating sushi at a Chinese restaurant.

Incensed by the blurring of cultural distinction, Hair began searching — to no avail — for authentic Asian cooking. But rather than leave her taste buds craving, Hair saw the culinary omission as an opportunity.

“I got mad, so I started teaching cooking classes at The Chef’s Table,” Hair says.

Hair also began writing food columns for The East County Observer and later launched SteamyKitchen.com as a way to store her mother’s recipes.

But rather than rely on an Internet development company, she taught herself all the technical mumbo-jumbo — HTML, CSS — necessary for running a blog.

Hair also jumped into the Twitter phenomenon just as it was gaining steam. Today, she has nearly 30,000 Twitter followers and more than 500,000 visitors to SteamyKitchen.com each month. Hair also owns a plethora of Internet superstar accolades, including being named as one of the 50 best food blogs in the world by Time Online and ranked in the top 600 most influential people on Twitter.

And although her fame stretches as far as the Internet itself, Hair is particularly grateful to her immediate surroundings.

“(Living in the East County) gave me the opportunity to do what I do now,” she says. “In San Francisco, there’s great cooking everywhere. But here, there was a lack authentic Chinese cuisine. And if it weren’t for that, I would have never gone down this path.

“This is my community, my home,” Hair says.

What’s for dessert?
Normally forthright and quick with her words, Hair shrugs off any predictions for her life in 2010.

As a mother, she considers her current situation — a bestselling cookbook coupled with a successful blog that allows her to work from home and spend time with her two sons, Andrew and Nathan — perfect.

And although she’s had TV offers on the table in the past, Hair is weary of any change that would affect her family too drastically.

“I don’t know — I’m a little nervous about how life would change,” Hair says. “It’s been so awesome to work at home and be with the kids.”

That’s not to say Hair is about to sit idle. She already is brewing ideas for her next cookbook, and as a featured writer for TLC, her popularity only promises to grow in 2010.

The beauty of Hair’s career is that it was born from the kitchen right inside her Greenbrook home. And if she so desires, it can continue to thrive from those comforts — close enough to pick her sons up from school.

“I don’t want to lose sight of what’s most important to me — and that’s my family,” Hair says.

Contact Michael Eng at meng@yourobserver.com.

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