Wed | Mar 3, 2021

Lesley Cooks moves from desserts to main course

Published:Thursday | February 4, 2021 | 12:07 AMKrysta Anderson/Gleaner Writer -
Satisfy your sweet tooth with this ripe plantain bread with chopped walnuts.
Satisfy your sweet tooth with this ripe plantain bread with chopped walnuts.
It doesn’t get more Jamaican than rice and peas, oxtail and beans, and fried plantains.
It doesn’t get more Jamaican than rice and peas, oxtail and beans, and fried plantains.
These shrimp quesadillas were served with three dips.
These shrimp quesadillas were served with three dips.
Home-made Hawaiian pizza, anyone?
Home-made Hawaiian pizza, anyone?
James’ speciality: chocolate chip cookie skillet, topped with vanilla bean ice cream.
James’ speciality: chocolate chip cookie skillet, topped with vanilla bean ice cream.
Pan-seared salmon, stuffed with spinach and mozzarella and cream cheese, on a bed of buttery asparagus and creamy garlic mashed potatoes.
Pan-seared salmon, stuffed with spinach and mozzarella and cream cheese, on a bed of buttery asparagus and creamy garlic mashed potatoes.
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Dessert might be the sweet finish to fine dining, but for Lesley-Anne James, it functioned as the start of her culinary dream.

A chocolate chip cookie skillet, topped with vanilla bean ice cream; fluffy, light and airy lemon blueberry cupcakes and cinnamon sugar doughnut holes — these are just a few of the pastries James has on offer. But she is not limited to all things sweet. Her cheesy stuffed callaloo chicken breast, topped with a jerked chicken glaze will leave you salivating. And her pastas are filled with rich, creamy flavour.

“Food makes me happy. The kind of happiness that doesn’t fade over time or ever go away. I love being in the state of preparing it with my heart and then being able to enjoy the taste. When I’m in a down state and cook, there’s a fire that ignites inside me. Food is a world of exploration for us to have fun. I’m here for the fun, the versatility and taste of food,” she shared.

Going by the moniker Lesley Cooks, this chef, certified foodie and food vlogger has made quite a name for herself with fans who are delighted by her pleasant disposition and sheer love for sweet, and now savoury dishes. “Currently, my Rasta Pasta video on YouTube has the most views. On Instagram, many of my most liked posts include pasta, whether it be Alfredo or baked mac and cheese. I think it’s wise to say they enjoy pasta just as much as I do,” she said.

James attributes her love for food to a fascination with her mother’s Sunday dinners. In no time, she was captain of the family kitchen, putting an irresistible end to the weekend in the taste buds department. She went on to pursue food and nutrition at both the CSEC and CAPE levels, which only solidified what she knew all along: that she is a food lover through and through.

She embarked on a tasty journey, documenting her creative recipes and directions via Instagram. “My Instagram audience really inspired me. At least four times a week I was asked when I was going to start my YouTube channel.” With that encouragement, she took her vibrant personality to YouTube. “My first YouTube video is definitely one for the books. It was so taboo to me; I was excited, nervous and scared. I prepared an oven-jerked chicken with festival. Everything was made from scratch. It was so good!”

She is also a fan of her breakfast dishes, which are a twist on the conventional, and include loaded tater tots (crispy tater tots topped with cheesy eggs, sausage, bacon and dollop of sour cream) and the waffle sandwich filled with fried ripe plantain, cheesy eggs, spinach and sausage, drizzled with syrup. Choosing her dishes boils down to a fusion of her own ideas and audience interests. Dishes and videos may not always turn out as great as anticipated, but James remains hopeful, putting quality over quantity in her pursuits.

With all that she has prepared, she considers desserts to be her speciality. “I love baking and channelling my inner creativity. In university, I started a small desserts company, and now I still sell deserts.” She hopes to expand on this sweet business. She also endeavours to join culinary forces with local brands. Other plans include her cookbook, which will be released this year.

Since starting her social media journey, James has fallen in love with food photography. It’s an area, she says, she would like to pursue further.

For more information, follow Lesley-Ann James on Instagram, @_lesleycooks or check out her LesleyCooks YouTube channel.

krysta.anderson@gleanerjm.com