scorecardChef Terrance Fisher learned the power of cooking and community in Orlando. Now he's using his skills to feed his hometown.
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Chef Terrance Fisher learned the power of cooking and community in Orlando. Now he's using his skills to feed his hometown.

Julia Naftulin   

Chef Terrance Fisher learned the power of cooking and community in Orlando. Now he's using his skills to feed his hometown.
LifeThelife5 min read
  • Orlando-based chef Terrance Fisher learned the value of community-building from a young age, and learned on his own as he pursued his cooking career a decade ago.
  • Now, Fisher is using his kitchen skills to give back to his Orlando community and beyond.
  • He cooked Thanksgiving dinner for five local families as part of a collaboration with charity Everyone Eats. As an ambassador at cooking collective Chef Kulture, Fisher also helps support other communities.

Three hours before Chef Terrance Fisher was set to serve 300 people at a Johnson University event in Kissimmee, Florida, none of the industrial kitchen's brand new ovens would heat up.

With university trustees and the president en route to the fancy affair, Fisher knew ordering pizza wasn't an option. Instead, he turned to his boss and told him, "I'm not freaking out, so you can't freak out. We're going to control what we can control," and then to his team, "First thing is, I love y'all. The second thing, we're going to have a great event."

A post shared by Terrance A. Fisher (@chefterrancefisher)

A few hours later, Fisher and his team turned out hundreds of plates he thought up on a whim. Fisher instructed them on how to prepare the food without a single oven.

"By the end of it, everybody loved the food, the trustees, the board, everybody. No one knew what happened but the staff," Fisher told Insider.

Fisher said his ability to thrive under pressure stemmed from his upbringing in Sanford, Florida, a town outside of Orlando.

There, his mother commanded Fisher, the eldest child, around the kitchen over the phone while she spent nights working and her son prepared dinner for the family. Fisher's grandmother, a food service assistant at local Goldsboro Elementary, showed him that food brought people together - whether in the cafeteria or over Thanksgiving dinner - when she cooked a massive meal for a houseful of guests.

Today Fisher exemplifies his childhood-taught values as a professional chef. He juggles being a private cook, head chef at Johnson University, a condiment entrepreneur, and an ambassador for Chef Kulture, a national collective of Black and brown chefs aiming to end food deserts through local action.

This holiday season, Fisher, 41, also cooked an early Thanksgiving dinner for the families of five students who attend the same school district where his grandmother served lunches when he was young.

"The stronger the community, the stronger you become because you have that to fall back on when you have those hard times," Fisher said of his philosophy.

Fisher's upbringing, and his cooking career, are rooted in community

Fisher didn't know he wanted to cook for a living until he took his first professional course in 2009 as a student at Le Cordon Bleu, a French culinary school.

His decision to enroll there seemed fated. Fisher was 30 and working at an Orlando Chase Bank branch at the time, but "I wasn't happy anymore because I knew that's not what I wanted to do," he said.

During a three-day depression-induced television binge, a commercial for Le Cordon Bleu popped up on Fisher's screen. The commercial aired again and again, until he'd seen it 13 times. He took it as a sign.

The courses came easy to Fisher, a self-described competitive spirit and lover of invention, two necessities in the culinary world.

A post shared by Terrance A. Fisher (@chefterrancefisher)

After Fisher graduated in 2010, he applied to 20 chef jobs in Orlando, but was rejected from them all. He was considered old by culinary standards, and hotels and restaurants were skeptical of hiring someone with no formal service industry experience.

But Fisher refused to go back to his banking job where he knew he'd be unhappy. Instead, he turned to his community.

"I called my church and asked them if I could cook for them all on Wednesday nights just to get practice," Fisher said. "I wasn't getting paid for it. They reimbursed me for groceries, but it was just one of those things where I wanted to learn how to feed large groups of people."

A decade later, Fisher is paying it forward in more ways than one

Soon, word of Fisher's kitchen prowess traveled and he began catering weddings in the Orlando area.

Two years later he decided to pivot to a personal chef business, which he calls Just Being Chef T.

A post shared by Terrance A. Fisher (@chefterrancefisher)

In addition to cultivating client relationships and selling Jayde sauce, a homemade condiment he bottled up and named after his daughter, Fisher continues to carve out time for the community that supported him through it all.

As an ambassador for Chef Kulture, Fisher works with the organization to help them gain new members and raise awareness of initiatives that center around feeding local families.

At the start of 2020, before the pandemic, Fisher traveled to Atlanta, Georgia and worked with 300 locals and 20 Chef Kulture leaders to clean up a garden where produce would later be planted to feed the community.

Despite the physical boundaries the pandemic has imposed on almost every facet of life, Fisher spreads kindness these days in the form of a great bite to eat.

While catering a private birthday dinner for Cori Denson, a grade school music teacher and founder of Everyone Eats: Denson's Food Drive, Fisher discovered they had similar goals of helping people. When he saw Denson's Instagram post for an upcoming Thanksgiving food drive event honoring five low-income Orlando families, Fisher told Denson he wanted to lend a hand.

On November 19, a week before Thanksgiving, Fisher headed to Memorial Middle School, where he whipped up dinner - a chicken and shrimp ramen noodle stir fry - and met the families. There, he, Denson, and the rest of the team also handed out bags full of donated turkeys, stuffing, and pie crusts so even more local families could make their own Thanksgiving meals the following week.

Deeds like this are the essence of Fisher's life in the Orlando area.

"I come from a big family," he said. "And we've had friends, our friends had friends, but everybody became family. I was taught that without those people around you, there's really no way to go forward, and you need those people to help push you and help mold you."