Jennifer Maune of Heritage Seasonings: 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A Chef
…Third, being a good manager of people and being compassionate is important. Chefs who work with me, whether in private events or public multi-course tasting dinners, appreciate my approach because I’m compassionate and maintain grace under pressure. I ensure everyone has as good an experience as I do, even when operating under stress…
I had the pleasure to interview Jennifer Maune. Jennifer is a multifaceted Chef and female entrepreneur from Little Rock, Arkansas. As a mother of six, Jennifer has skillfully balanced her roles in the culinary and design worlds while nurturing a large family. Her journey into the spotlight began with her lifestyle blog, ‘Living Life Beautifully,’ launched in 2017. The blog quickly gained popularity, focusing on home design, DIY projects, entertaining, and travel, inspired by her grandmother’s legacy as a natural southern cook and master hostess.
Jennifer’s passion for cooking led her to pursue formal culinary education at the age of 40, while expecting her sixth child. She earned an Associate Degree in both Pastry and Culinary Arts and completed advanced certifications at Le Cordon Bleu Paris. Her culinary prowess was showcased as the Runner-Up on FOX’s “Master Chef.” Beyond her culinary achievements, Jennifer has a keen interest in home design, evidenced by her recognition as a Better Homes and Gardens Stylemaker in 2021, 2022, and 2023, and her selection as a High Point Market Design Influencer for the same years.
Her entrepreneurial spirit is evident in her line of ‘Heritage Seasonings’, consisting of unique spice blends like Garlic Pepper, Lemon Pepper, and All Purpose. Additionally, she has designed a line of comfort mats sold at Williams Sonoma and online with GelPro. Jennifer aspires to open an elevated café and pastry shop and is involved in providing cooking tutorials and culinary experiences.
Jennifer’s commitment to her community is reflected in her support for various organizations in Arkansas, including Potluck, a food insecurity organization, CARTI, a cancer organization, and The Call, a foster care organization. She continues to live in Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband, children, and their dogs, Bella and Pearl.
Yitzi: Well, Jennifer, it’s a delight and an honor to meet you. So before we dive in, our readers would love to learn about your origin story. You have a fascinating background. Tell us about your childhood, how you grew up.
Jennifer: Absolutely. I grew up right here in central Arkansas, in a very small town. My grandmother was a mother of five. Our holidays and summers were always bustling with people. She was an amazing cook and a renaissance woman. She held the title of poet laureate of Arkansas, was a published poet and author, and a songwriter. I admired her immensely and spent my summers with her while my mom worked full time. We spent time in the kitchen, creating and doing all sorts of things together. I began cooking at a very early age and wanted a big family like hers.
I went to college and received a BA in speech and mass communications. Right out of college, I started a career in event planning, fundraising, and nonprofit management. I worked my way up to executive director of a statewide nonprofit, growing it into a large organization. Then, I had three children in about three years. My third child was born with health issues, so I decided to focus on being a mom for a while.
About three or four years into that, I was looking for an outlet, a way to connect with like-minded people, and use my creativity. So, in 2017, I started a blog. It initially focused on motherhood and then shifted to home living. I’ve always loved setting an elegant table, floral design, and home decorating. I began sharing our tablescapes at holidays and our parties, offering inspiration from my own home. People started responding positively, and I realized I could turn this into a business. That’s how my lifestyle blog, jenniferamond.com, started as a hobby and has now grown into a full-time role, along with my growing social media following.
Midway through my career, I decided to shift my focus from motherhood to helping others create a beautiful home and lifestyle. This included recipes, entertaining, home design, DIY home projects, and everything related to the home. My recipes started gaining popularity, and I received numerous questions from people nationwide about modifying them for different dietary needs. Initially, I shared family recipes and my own creations, but I couldn’t always answer these questions. This led me to wonder how I could become more of an authority in this field. I felt confident in entertaining and had some background in home design, so I enrolled in a local culinary school while pregnant with my sixth child at age 40. The experience was challenging, especially being five or six months pregnant and spending long hours on my feet in a commercial kitchen, cleaning floors, and handling trash and compost.
Despite the hardships, I knew from the first day that this was my calling. I came home exhilarated, telling my husband this was what I was meant to do. Initially, I aimed for a pastry chef certification, a 24-hour program, since I was already sharing a lot of baking content on my website. But about a month in, I decided to pursue the full degree, which required advanced pastry and bread-making classes, along with culinary courses. I soon fell in love with the entire culinary world. I discussed with my husband the idea of obtaining a full culinary degree. At that point, I had given birth and was nursing my baby, which added complexity to my classes as I had to take breaks for nursing.
These four years were incredibly tough, but they were the most rewarding experiences of my life.
In October 2021, the MasterChef Live Tour visited my culinary school. This six-week tour features both adult and junior finalists from the show, traveling across the U.S. to perform cooking demonstrations. My professor asked me to volunteer in preparing food for the event, and I was joined by other students, including my daughter, who is an avid baker. Together, we assisted the MasterChef team and enjoyed their demonstration. Watching the event sparked a thought in me about participating in something similar, but I didn’t consider it seriously at the time.
I’m a goal-oriented person with a long-term business plan. However, the idea of joining a cooking show wasn’t part of my goals then. My daughter and I started watching MasterChef Junior, which we both enjoyed. In September, she expressed her desire to audition for the show. I agreed, on the condition that she would learn more savory cooking skills. While searching online for the MasterChef Junior audition, I stumbled upon the casting call for MasterChef. The deadline was close, so I hurriedly prepared a two-minute audition tape, photographs of my dishes, and completed an extensive application.
I submitted my application at 10 p.m. on the deadline day, after praying for guidance. To my surprise, I received a call from Los Angeles at 1 p.m. the next day. Over 40,000 people apply, so I didn’t expect to hear back so soon. The process that followed lasted about two and a half months, during which they required various materials from me each week, including videos and photos.
In December, I was informed that I was going to L.A. I spent eight weeks there, from January through early March, and made it to the finale, becoming a MasterChef finalist and the second runner-up. Gordon Ramsay, after the competition, offered to mentor me and gave me his contact details. He believed I would be successful regardless of the show’s outcome and said that it was a close call. This affirmation was significant, especially after the challenging experience of being away from my six kids for such an extended period.
My journey to MasterChef started with cooking alongside my grandmother, followed by culinary school, blogging, and eventually the show. Fame was never my ambition; my real dream has been to open a restaurant. When I realized the prize money on MasterChef was $250,000, I saw it as potential seed money for my dream, which I didn’t have. This motivated me to send in my application, hoping for a chance to win and start my restaurant.
Interestingly, around the time I made it to the top 10 on the show, I received an email from a local investor interested in discussing a restaurant venture in my home state. Now, after meeting with several investor groups, we have multiple offers and are close to finalizing plans. The goal isn’t just one restaurant; we’re planning to open six across Arkansas, then expand into Texas and Tennessee, and hopefully, spread nationwide. That’s the business plan now.
Yitzi: So exciting, so much to unpack. Can you tell us a bit about Heritage Seasonings?
Yes, I’d love to. I’ve put a lot of effort into this small box. The project began on September 1st, and last week we launched preorders, with shipping starting this Monday. It’s now available in one retail store. We had our launch event last night, starting with 50 boxes, and we sold out. They’ve already placed another order to restock. I created these seasonings in my kitchen, using the spices I love in my daily cooking and recipes. I developed a lemon pepper, a garlic pepper, and an all-purpose seasoning. The all-purpose seasoning reflects my Southern heritage with a touch of heat and smoke. I worked with a blender in Arkansas, testing until we achieved the perfect blend and texture. I’m proud of their all-natural ingredients, being MSG and gluten-free, and fully made in Arkansas — from the graphic design to the box and blending. My first retailer is also in Arkansas, my home state, which has supported me throughout my MasterChef journey. I’ve been featured in every major Arkansas magazine and the state newspaper multiple times.
The name ‘Heritage Seasoning’ pays tribute to my grandmother, who was poet laureate of Arkansas. She wrote a poem titled ‘The Natural State,’ and when looking for a name for my company, ‘heritage’ stood out from her poem. It’s an ode to her and our state. The word ‘heritage’ also embodies my vision for my restaurant — a farm-to-table approach with a modern twist on classic recipes. The restaurant will offer elevated breakfast, brunch, and lunch, and for dinner, we’re planning a fine dining small plate concept. The seasonings are now shipping nationwide, to states like California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and all over Arkansas. The success has covered my initial investment, which is a great relief.
Do you think that’ll be successful all over the country?
Yitzi: Absolutely. With your passion and your vision and your skill and execution, I, like Gordon Ramsay, have very high confidence in you.
Oh, I appreciate that.
Yitzi: This is our signature question. You’ve been blessed with so much success. Looking back to when you first started, can you share with our readers the five things you need to be a highly successful chef or pastry chef?
That’s a great question. Five things.
- First, hardworking. This applies to any field. I’ve had long days recently, working around the clock to get things going. A good work ethic is crucial.
- Second, I remember my first employer telling me to drink the Kool-Aid. He meant becoming a master and learning everything about my field. I went to pastry school, then culinary school, and even got accepted into Le Cordon Bleu in Paris for their advanced pastry certification. I’m planning to go back for their culinary advanced certification. It’s all about immersing yourself in your craft.
- Third, being a good manager of people and being compassionate is important. Chefs who work with me, whether in private events or public multi-course tasting dinners, appreciate my approach because I’m compassionate and maintain grace under pressure. I ensure everyone has as good an experience as I do, even when operating under stress.
- Fourth, giving back is vital. I’ve donated chef dinners to nonprofits in my community. The last one I donated raised $17,000 for cancer research in my state. In total, I’ve raised about $50,000 for my community through these dinners. It’s important for anyone in a leadership position to give back, especially if they’ve been blessed immensely.
- Finally, balance. I’m working hard on maintaining balance and being intentional at home. As a mom of six, my children are my number one priority. They’re the reason I’m doing all this — to give them a legacy and a future. I worked three jobs through college, coming from a low-income family and being the first to graduate. I carry that experience with me and want to create different opportunities for my children in the future.
Yitzi: How can our readers continue to follow your work? How can they purchase heritage seasonings? How can they patronize your restaurants? How can they support you in any way?
Well, my website, jennifermaune.com, is where the seasonings are sold. You can join my e-newsletter to receive recipes, home design, and entertaining tips. Also, any future news about the opening of the restaurant will be announced through the newsletter. I hope what we’re creating will draw people to Arkansas, and if there’s enough demand, we might expand across the country.
Yitzi: I wish you continued success and blessings, and I’m confident that you’re going to be amazing.
Jennifer Maune of Heritage Seasonings: 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career As A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.