BE Modern Man: Meet 'The Culinary Connector' Kirk Wardy

BE Modern Man: Meet ‘The Culinary Connector’ Kirk Wardy

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Kirk Wardy, News Videographer and Founder of The LaRue Group, a multi-media firm & culinary talent agency for food, beverage and hospitality professionals.

Name: Kirk Wardy

Age: 45

Profession: News videographer and founder of The LaRue Group, a multi-media firm and culinary talent agency for food, beverage, and hospitality professionals.

One Word That Describes You: Optimistic.

What does being one of the BEMM 100 Men of Distinction mean to you?

It’s an honor. But it also means that I should be humble, because there are 99 other brothers that are working just as hard as I am to make a difference and leave their mark on the world.

What are some examples of how you turned struggle into success?

I struggled with depression and PTSD. Like so many other black men, I never realized that I suffered from either one. Once I accepted that something didn’t feel right, I sought professional help with a therapist. Now, any chance I get, I share my experiences to encourage other black men to stop ignoring your mental health. Depression is often looked down upon in our community, but your mental health is just as important as your physical health. You’ll never reach your full potential if you don’t take care of your mind as well as your body. For me, just realizing I had a problem, accepting it, and following through with what I needed to do has helped me become more productive.

Another example is when I started my company, The LaRue Group.  In 2013, I was simply a cameraman working for a major news outlet. After filming a series of culinary events, I realized black chefs weren’t at the forefront—they were behind the scenes doing all the work, but not getting the shine they deserved in front of the camera. These chefs weren’t cooking soul food, they were cooking everything from vegan and Greek dishes, to Asian and Italian; and their presentation was on point.

I spoke to a few minority chefs about this and they all said,  “That’s just how it is.” Because they were such a small community, they couldn’t make too much noise about it. One chef told me I had the ability to change the conversation about minority chefs. I didn’t understand and I struggled with his comments, because I didn’t know how I could help them. It took me a year before I decided to use what I had—my camera and my relationships with media. I called Chef Monterray Keys, who I met a year earlier, and a TV newscaster and asked if they would participate in an event to showcase minority chef talent in Philadelphia. After the event, people started asking me when was the next event. Then once I got on Instagram, other minority chefs started asking me if they could participate in an event. We hosted several other sold out events in Philly. I knew it was time to launch a company that would not only help chefs get the spotlight, but help them find jobs and even connect them with more established people in the culinary world.

What is an important quality you look for in your relationships with others? 

In business, plans change often, so adaptability is important for me.

What are some immediate projects you are working on? 

We have three major things we are working on:

  1. Recruiting more chefs of color. Right now, we have eight chefs based in Philadelphia. We’re always receiving opportunities for chefs to work at events and restaurants both locally and even in the Caribbean. Just last week, we received a chef placement request for a chef who would be willing to move to the British Virgin Islands. So we’re definitely looking to add more chefs in cities across the U.S.
  2. Hosting the Chef Series Experience on July 16, at Indigo Bleu in Philadelphia. The Chef Series Experience is our signature food and wine event that spotlights chefs of color from across the country. It’s a ticketed event. Attendees experience everything from live cooking demonstrations, wine tasting, and music. It really gives chefs an opportunity to showcase their culinary talent and speak with the community.Here’s a video of our last event:
  3. Membership program. A huge challenge for minority chefs and food entrepreneurs of color (chefs, food entrepreneurs) is understanding what it really takes to market themselves and grow their food businesses. So, we’re looking forward to launching a series of networking events and podcasts on everything from branding, to understanding the different types of insurance and equipment you need to operate your business.

What is the best advice you ever received? 

Never let fifty-cent stop a dollar.

What is some advice you have for other men who want to make a difference?

I think a lot of times, we get caught up in thinking we need a lot more money or access to things to make a difference in the world. But sometimes it starts with finding something in your community or at your workplace that annoys you. Then you just have to get started. You won’t have all the answers in the beginning, but just use what you have to create something that addresses the problem or fills the need and learn along the way. Most importantly, keep God first in everything you do.

How do you prep for an important business meeting and/or event? Research is key for any business meeting.

I try to have some background information on everyone who’s attending the meeting, so that I can be prepared to answer the “What’s in it for me?” question. I also like to get to know people beyond their job description, so looking at their status updates on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram can give you some insight into who they really are and what they enjoy doing. Having that information helps me break the ice when I first meet them.

As a busy Modern Man, how do you unwind on vacation? Share a story about your best vacation.

My best vacation was in Haiti at the Haiti Food Festival. This vacation changed my whole perspective about a lot of things that were going on in the world and in my personal life. It was an emotional roller coaster ride. I also took a trip to Samana in the Dominican Republic. I went there specifically to speak with an historian about the ancestors of freed American slaves that made the journey led by Richard Wright to the island of Hispaniola to start a new life.

If you could travel and stay anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

This is hard for me because I haven’t been everywhere yet, but it’s on my list (lol). First, I would love to visit every country of the African Diaspora. I would love to visit South Africa and Cuba. I also feel very alive in warm climates so I would love to live somewhere in the Caribbean.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Thank you Black Enterprise for creating a space for black men, because right now we need it more than ever.  God bless each of these men who are listed along with me and those young men coming after me for standing up for something that they believe in.

It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @blackenterprise and join the BE Modern Man conversation using #BEModernMan.