Tell us about yourself…
Charita ‘Momma Cherri’ Jones. I was born and raised just outside of Philadelphia in the USA. I moved to London in 1978 and in 2000 decided to make Brighton my home.
I’ve had many careers: professional stage manager, drama teacher, singer in a pop-funk-gospel band, chef and caterer and YouTuber. I’m an activist for equality and a foster carer having looked after 85 children.
How did you get into the food world?
I’ve always cooked from a young age. My mum was a single parent so as the oldest I was responsible for taking care of my siblings including feeding them. I’ve always enjoyed hosting parties and cooking for friends and family.
I come from a long line of matriarch cooks in my family, learning from my aunts and grandmother. As a student I lived in Mexico for a year and then in France and quickly appreciated the differences in worldwide food. Food is my love language.
How would you describe your style of food?
Non-pretentious, home-cooked comfort food; stick-to-your-ribs, soul food. It’s wholesome, filled with flavour and packed with fresh ingredients.
Is it the same food you enjoy at home, or do you have some other favourite cuisines?
Yes, the food I cook for others is the food I cook at home. I love food from all over the world and my husband and I love to try new foods whenever we travel.
You once appeared in Garden Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares TV show. Was that a good experience?
It was incredible. He came back to the kitchen with an empty plate! I learned a lot from him, and I know he learned a thing or two from me.
After you closed your Soul Food Shack and Momma Cherri’s Big House in Little East Street, what did you do?
I went back to fostering and also worked with inmates at Lewes prison. For a time I went to Dublin to help a struggling cajun restaurant where I trained their chefs and passed on the knowledge that Gordon had taught me.
I then started a Youtube channel with my daughter, which has been going really well. We have over 189,000 subscribers and really love the support from Brighton and wider UK.
I also host cooking experiences on AirBnB, where people come to learn to cook a few dishes and then we have a meal together.
What other charity work have you engaged in and why?
I support The Starr Trust and have done loads of work with them to raise funds. I particularly love the charity because it provides such amazing support to children through encouraging and supporting them to achieve their dreams.
I also worked with the Purple People food bank during the pandemic. I cooked over 100 items each week, using ingredients that had been donated to the food bank. This meant that hundreds of people were receiving cooked meals alongside food donated by the supermarkets.
Tell us what you’ve been up to this summer and your forthcoming residency at the Coopers Cask in Hove.
This summer I have been really busy popping up at many of the independent brewery tap rooms across Sussex, serving up my Soul food classics. I’ve also recently become a chef in residence at The Cooper Cask on Farm Road in Hove. I’m doing Thursday 8 and 22 September and then every Thursday in October from 5-8.30pm. We will be celebrating Black History Month during October, with a number of special events Including live music, quiz night and much more.
Can people learn to cook with you?
Yes! I host cooking experiences from my new studio kitchen. I’m also available to provide lessons in your home, or as part of an event.
Any other future plans you can reveal?
We were very fortunate to have been selected to be a part of a special programme launched by YouTube to inspire and help black creators with training, mentoring and funds to help elevate our ideas and strengthen our channel.
I’ve used parts of the fund to help with re-branding, a new website and renovated my old garage transforming it into a new kitchen studio where I can invite people in to learn about my soul food journey and share my passion for cooking. I’m also in the process of launching my hand-blended cajun seasoning – I call it my Love Dust!