Meet Ramona Baptiste

Chef wants to bring lots of flavor and more vegetables to the table

By Cassandra West

Ramona Baptiste grew up detesting the foods that her dad frowned on as child himself: beans, oatmeal and okra. Part of large Southern family, her dad ate those staples too much for his liking. Ramona, who grew up in Chicago, had an altogether different kind of childhood diet. Her mom cooked a lot of steak, she recalls.

“I used to complain. ‘Steak again?’” she says, laughing.

Today, Ramona, 56, is a chef and nutrition specialist, and her focus is on healthy, nutritious cooking. She mixes her family’s cooking traditions with flavorful options that suits not only her palette but also address the needs of her community, which she believes needs to be better educated about food choices.

A 32-year AT&T employee, Ramona, who “was always doing a little catering on my own,” took her daughter’s advice a few years ago and went to culinary school, so she could take her cooking repertoire up a notch. “There’s a lot going on the culinary industry that mama can’t teach us,” she says. Her goal, though, is to “get back to the old style of cooking.”

That means creating dishes full of flavor and packed with high nutritional value. That also includes cooking lots of vegetables. “I’m about taking our ordinary food and making it healthier, more flavorful,” she says. “I love garlic, and garlic does a body good.” She also believes that healthy cooking doesn’t have to be expensive, and most cooks can use what they have at home.

Ramona, whose catering business is called Chef in the Hood Inc., will be part of the question-and-answer discussion following the One Earth Film Festival screening of “PlantPure Nation,” Sun., March 6, 3:30 p.m., at Garfield Park Conservatory, 300 North Central Park Ave. in Chicago.

Plant Pure Nation tells the story of three people on a quest to spread the message about the benefits of a plant-based diet.

Also, joining the discussion are: Angela Taylor, Community Gardener and Wellness Coordinator of the Garfield Park Community Council, and Dr. Paul Schattauer, physician and owner, The Green Medical Practice in Oak Park.

Tickets, which are free with a suggested donation of $5, to the screening are available here.

—Cassandra West