YOU HAVE STRAYED AWAY FROM THE TRADITIONAL JAMAICAN OPTIONS, AND EMBRACED A HEALTHY, VEGAN, VEGETARIAN, GLUTEN-FREE PHILOSOPHY. TELL US WHY.
JHL: I actually don’t think I’ve strayed that much! I think when we think of ‘Jamaican Food’ we immediately think of meat, but Jamaican food is so much more than that to me. I still eat ackee, callaloo, yam, sweet potato, bammy, breadfruit, otaheite apples, pineapples, coconut, pear...the list goes on! At the same time, the reason why I don’t usually share the more well known Jamaican dishes-such as a vegan version of stew peas-is because I’m on a mission to show my Jamaican readers that Jamaican food shouldn’t be trapped in the food box that it has been [in] for so long. So I make things like vegan jerk burgers with caramelised pineapples, or callaloo pizza to embrace our ingredients in a unique way, to show this.
YOU STUDIED LAW; TELL US ABOUT HOW AND WHY YOU DECIDED TO TAKE THE FOOD ROUTE.
JHL: Food was always there. While I was doing my graduate degree in law, I would spend the free time in-between classes scrolling through recipes on Pinterest, simply in awe at the beauty of the food styling. After I began practicing- I did enjoy law, but it was immediately obvious to me and my family what my true passion was. Once I realized my income would be enough to actually match and surpass my income as an attorney, I made the decision to switch careers completely. The funny thing is I use law every single day. I use everything-from the time management skills I learnt, to actually reading contracts for brand partnerships and ambassadorships that I’m a part of. Law set me up perfectly to own my business, to be an entrepreneur.
WERE YOU AT ALL SURPRISED AT HOW WELL RECEIVED YOUR WEBSITE WAS, CONSIDERING IT WAS QUITE “NICHE”?
JHL: To be honest, not at all-and I am quite happy at how many lives I’ve touched. When I became a vegetarian, I shared this with them [my readers]. It was just a thing that happened to me, and they were able to relate and follow along on my journey. I think everyone is on their own journey, and when they find someone who is sharing their life authentically online, a connection is almost immediately formed.
At the same time, I think being niche is crucial to growing a successful business. It’s important to focus on a specific topic, if you want to impact a specific set of people. I love the fact that I can help someone with a particular struggle, target it and find a solution. Not developing a niche is a trap many first-timers fall into under the guise of ‘doing it all’, for everyone, but that never usually works out for the best. Finding an area that you’re an expert in is definitely a cornerstone of growing a successful business that will remain relevant for decades to come.
YOU HAVE SUCH A GREAT EYE WHEN IT COMES TO PHOTOGRAPHY. DID YOU TAKE CLASSES OR ARE YOU SELF-TAUGHT? HOW DOES THIS CONTRIBUTE TO YOUR WHOLE ONLINE WEBSITE EXPERIENCE?
JHL: I’m not professionally trained, but I’ve certainly invested in myself to better my skills. I’ve bought ebooks, watched online videos, gone to conferences, and simply just practiced. I’ve been practicing for years and I believe that I could practice for years more, and still learn even more.
I know that my photography definitely impacted the reach of my site! We eat with our eyes first, and when food looks beautiful it’s easier to convince people that it tastes delicious too, which it does of course!
HOW DID YOU GROW YOUR INSTAGRAM FOLLOWING? HOW DO YOU APPROACH YOUR BLOG LIKE A BUSINESS?
JHL: The Instagram following-it’s the same as my website-I just remained authentic! There are honestly no tips that will help you grow other than that if you have a message to share, and believe it will help people in their daily lives, share it. That’s really all i did at the beginning, and I found that it really made a difference.
Speaking about my business, I never call my website a blog. Because blogging is still new as a respected career’ genre, it has a reputation for not being taken seriously. As a result it can downplay all the work that is involved in the day-to-day activities of running this business, so I simply take the approach that I’m not a blogger but a business woman, or as I love to say-a bosslady. Jessica in the Kitchen is currently being trademarked and registered, and so while I am the brand, the brand is also separate from me. This helps me to view things from a logical, objective point of view and to make decisions this way instead of based purely on emotions. Because, when you view it as the professional business that it is, others will too.
WHAT DO YOU HAVE PLANNED FOR THE FUTURE?
JHL: I’m currently working on an ebook titled It’s That Easy , a straightforward step-by-step guide to help readers who are switching to a plant-based , meatless lifestyle. It has been a work-in-progress for almost two years now, and it feels amazing that I will finally be releasing it! My site has also just undergone the biggest makeover it ever has, including the complete changing of my logo, which is huge! One thing I try to explain is that my website is like my office and so similar to how one would invest in the lobby or conference room of their office, I invest everything I can into my website. I always planned to go back to school. I’m going to study to be a registered health coach so that I can help my readers even more.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR FAVOURITE LOCAL CHEFS?
JHL: My favourite chefs locally are Lisa and Chris Binns, from the farm-to-table business Stush in the Bush. Their all-natural organic farm inspired me to start growing vegetables and herbs in my backyard ( which is not easy to do, so major props to them), and the love, time, energy, and hard work that they put into their business is truly inspirational.
HOW DO YOU STAY INSPIRED?
JHL: I love this question! I love learning and I believe that no matter what area you are in, you should learn something new every single day. I schedule time to learn something new daily, and I do that in the form of podcasts, books, documentaries, travelling, and eating new foods. I also love to learn from creatives in different industries- I believe creativity is linked all over and that we can learn from each other too. I also love trying new experiences be that kayaking, meditation, Bikram Yoga, or oil pulling, because I always come away learning something that will impact a part of my life, that always leads right back to me incorporating it into my business.
Written by: Leisha Wong