Jean Jacques Kabuya (Chef Jacques) is all about good food. When asked about what kind of food he likes to cook, he is literally all over the map. “I was born in Zambia, raised in Vancouver, lived in Mexico, and worked in Hong Kong. I have travelled a lot as I have wanted to try different cuisines from all around the world.” As a result, he can cook just about anything. Combine this with his entrepreneurial drive to have his own business, and Salt N Sear Catering was born.
He began his career by cooking at small events for friends and family, but as word got out and catering requests increased, he realized that he could turn this into the business he always wanted. Despite being only 26, he knew that he had it in him to make it work.
In 2017, when he officially launched his catering venture, he began his search to find a commercial commissary kitchen space to meet the growing demand for his services. “I wanted something close to home and that gave me access to all the equipment and space that I needed for my business,” says Chef Jacques. After visiting different shared-use kitchens, he made the decision to rent space at Commissary Connect on Industrial Avenue, which has allowed him to scale his business and expand his client base.
Cooking for as long as he can remember, Chef Jacques credits his mother with his passion for feeding people. Although she passed away in 2016, her influence runs deep and is still a part of all that he makes. “I love to make my mom’s oxtail stew. I sear the meat ahead of time and slow cook it with mirepoix and peppers, and then I deglaze with red wine and add my own homemade beef broth. I let it simmer for three to four hours with herbs wrapped in cheesecloth so that they can easily be removed when done. Sometimes I add in spinach near the end and usually serve with rice and peas or by itself with sides.” Many of his favourite meals to prepare are part of his African heritage, which he can adapt to cater to his client’s specific needs.
Up until recently, he went back to Zambia every year to visit with family and take in the food and culture. In 2018, he even proposed to his wife Janice while on an African Safari. “We were on a Big Five Safari. Protected by five guards, we were able to walk alongside the lions and see them with their cubs. We needed to be careful, but it was the perfect setting for the proposal.”
They have been partners ever since, in business and in life, although Janice tends to prefer working behind the scenes managing the details. Salt N Sear has continued to grow but when the pandemic hit, things had to shift. “Our business changed, but in some ways for the better. People have always wanted plated dinners, but with COVID, we started to get more bookings for home catering. With stringent protocols in place, we can now go in and prepare custom home-cooked meals for our clients.”
Chef Jacques has also been receiving increasing attention in the media. He has been featured in several local publications and recently was approached by Jillian Harris to cater her wedding. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, that event is on hold but it did not stop her from raving about him and his food to her massive Instagram following @jillian.harris, even generously sharing her platform with him. “We did a two-day takeover event on her social account, which was so engaging and fun.” Chef Jacques shared his Beer Crust Pizza Dough recipe which became an instant hit.
Chef Jacques is quite hopeful as he looks towards the future. “I plan to hire full-time staff next year, especially as things start to pick up over the holidays.” However busy he gets though, he will always make time for his volunteer work with Camp Moomba—a peer support and education program for youth living with, and affected by, HIV in BC. “I have been a camp leader volunteer for many years, but with COVID we have to do things differently now. I am planning to offer the kids cooking classes online in December.” No surprise that it all comes back to making good food and teaching the next generation to love the process as much as he does.
Jean Jacques Kabuya (Chef Jacques) is all about good food. He began his career by cooking at small events for friends and family, but as word got out and catering requests increased, he realized that he could turn this into the business he always wanted.
Anita Lopez started Cinco Estrelas, a Portuguese catering company, as a way to spend more time with her son while also generating an income. Her family used to own a restaurant called Cinco Estrelas and it was a big part of her childhood. She wanted to offer the same experience to her son.