Eat Well

Meet Chef Breana

Meet Chef Breana Jackson, a Season Health Culinary Council member, whose journey from her grandmother's kitchen to culinary expert highlights the rich history and cultural significance of soul food, inspiring diverse recipes that celebrate its flavors.

At Season Health, we know that nutrition prescriptions and meal plans are not one-size-fits-all, and we are firm believers that culturally-familiar food is essential to better health outcomes. That’s why we work with cuisine experts who represent a range of communities that represent the diversity of Season’s patients. Making healthy food choices is more practical, and more enticing, when the options are familiar and use accessible, culturally-relevant ingredients. 

Our Culinary Council is made up of chefs representing the cuisines of the African American, Native American, Mexican, and other Latin American communities. With the expertise of these chefs, we dive deep into the history, techniques, ingredients, and quintessential dishes that define these cuisines to inspire recipes that are as authentic as possible while still aligning with Season’s nutrition, cost, and easy recipe goals. 

Today we have the pleasure of sitting down with Chef Breana Jackson to learn more about her background as a chef and how we can work together to best represent the soul of African American cuisine and history. 

When did you know you wanted to become a chef and what sparked that interest?

“I grew up in a home with my sister, mother, and grandmother, where my grandmother prepared most of our meals. Eventually, I stepped into her role as the main cook of the family because I had the closest ties to our Southern Texas roots.  I took it upon myself to take my time in the kitchen with her more seriously. Instead of just playfully assisting her, I grew to be more intentional with our time spent cooking the recipes her mother once taught her. She was my first chef and sparked my love for food and feeding others. She taught me that food is more than just tasty items on a plate, but a way to bring people together. The real turning point for being a chef, and not just someone who likes to cook food, was when I began to create original recipes and menus. Being a chef is hard work and something I work on daily. The joy I get from successfully learning a new dish or technique, creating a new menu, and watching people enjoy my food fills me up with a happiness I simply can’t explain. 

Can you share your background and journey in becoming an expert in African American cuisine (and other cuisines)?

“Luckily, with my grandmother being born and raised in Texas, I have close ties to traditional African-American cuisine, but knowing how to cook the food and understanding the rich history behind it are two totally different things. I do my best to stay connected to my ancestors and history through food.  She birthed my love for African-American food but I had to take it upon myself to learn more about the rich history behind the dishes we hold close to our hearts. I apply that same desire for knowledge to other cuisines as well which is why I’m also able to cook Italian, Mexican, and Japanese food. Because slaves were not allowed to learn to read or write, cookbooks were non-existent and all recipes were passed down verbally and through hands-on recreation. While this made it virtually impossible to save recipes and recreate them exactly, it was also a way to build community. Whenever I cooked with my grandmother and asked for recipes, I took it upon myself to annotate directions and ingredients as best as possible, as most soul food cooking is done by taste. A pinch of this and a smidge of that aren’t real measurements that one can quantify but that’s how they learned to cook. 

Can you share insights into the historical roots and stories behind particular dishes within this cuisine?

“Though there are some European and West African influences in some dishes, like the history of most things in this country, the roots of many dishes can be traced back to the days of slavery. African Americans had to cook meals using whatever scraps they could get their hands on after preparing meals for the family. Though many dishes and traditions were survived by people brought here in the slave trade, many were adopted and altered by what was available to them. This is how we got dishes like chitterlings, pigs’ feet, and many other dishes made from leftover scraps. Through the Great Migration, many dishes spread far and wide with many families and regions adding their own adaptations to the dishes. Some even took influence from Natives as well which further our connection with ingredients like corn, cornmeal, and grits.”

How do you stay informed about the latest culinary trends, techniques, and ingredients in your specialized area of expertise?

“I am constantly reading and doing research! I am constantly buying books, reading new publications, and docu-series so I can stay educated on new findings and trends, new historical discoveries, and more. Series and books like High on the Hog are doing amazing work in showing people the connections across different ethnic backgrounds and cultures. There is always something to learn even when you think you’re an expert on a topic. I am never satisfied with my talents or knowledge and to say I’m well-versed in a subject means that I must always do my best to keep growing and learning.”

Hungry? Here are some recipes we think you’ll enjoy:

Baked Cauliflower Mac and Cheese

Grits and Greens

Fish & Grits with Collard Greens

Oven-Fried Chicken with Greens and Sweet Potatoes

Spicy Black-Eyed Peas with Sweet Potatoes

Hoppin' John (Carolina Peas and Rice)

Jalapeño-Cheese Cornbread Pancakes with Blueberries

Spicy Red Beans and Rice

Southern-Style Chicken and Dumplings

Black-Eyed Pea Gumbo

Shrimp & Grits with Parmesan and Sautéed Spinach

Shrimp Étouffée (Smothered Cajun Shrimp and Rice)

Chicken Jambalaya

Cajun Shrimp and Corn Stew

Popcorn Shrimp with Spicy Cabbage Slaw

We will be interviewing more chefs from the Culinary Council to learn about different cuisines and how we incorporate them into Season recipes. Please reach out to if you have any questions or comments -  we’d love to hear from you. Happy cooking!