Chef Rene Opens Up About Cooking For The Rich And Famous - Exclusive

Chef Rene Johnson's path in life has been anything but conventional. For nearly two decades of her professional life, she wasn't even a chef — she worked in finance. But ironically, a flair for baking soon saw Johnson incorporating cooking into her business. "I was a mortgage broker and I had this gift for baking. And so when people would refinance or buy a home, I would always give them a gift of a pound cake or sweet potato pie or a cobbler," Johnson said during an exclusive interview with Mashed. "I would let them order that at their closing. And then what ended up happening is that my children and I decided to make holiday baking something that I would do on the side. So I would give my customers, my clients, an order form for baking, and it kind of blew up."

With the economic downturn of the Great Recession, Johnson found herself with money saved up, time on her hands, and the inspiration to try cooking as more than a side gig. And thanks to her gift with California-style soul food, her catering business Blackberry Soul has done sensationally. Chef Rene, as she is now known, has cooked for some very famous people indeed. She dished on a few of her favorites.

"So my favorite [guest] is Dr. Cornel West. ... He was the most fun ... He danced and he loved our mac and cheese. He took some home with him!" Johnson shared. "And then my other favorite is [Governor] Gavin Newsom. I love Gavin Newsom. He's vegan and I make a vegan quinoa meatloaf that he absolutely loved. So I do an event for Congresswoman Barbara Lee every year. And we always do a Juneteenth event. So it was more of an elegant barbecue. ... [Gavin] always wants his meatloaf and baked beans with no meat in it."

Chef Rene's other A-list clients

As Chef Rene reveals, Vice President Kamala Harris has a bit of a sweet tooth, favoring the chef's desserts like mini sweet potato pies, mini cupcakes, and mini homemade cookies. Actor Danny Glover loved her vegan beans and rice, not minding at all the decidedly modern twist on soul food. And it was a meeting of the minds and the palates when actress-singer-songwriter Ledisi came by Chef Rene's place.

"I have had the opportunity to feed most of the musical stars in the Bay area. So I fed the Tony's. I fed Ledisi. And Ledisi, she stayed with me at my restaurant all day long from 11 to six! And she ate everything on my menu and her and her mother, they were my special guests. And she sat in the corner and had people meet with her. I sat down with her and now she's one of my favorites as well," Chef Rene shared.

As for the celebrity chef that Chef Rene most looks to for inspiration? "My favorite chef right now is Jamie Oliver," she said. "I love Jamie Oliver. I think Jamie Oliver brings the soul into his food, that soul thing we talk about. He's fun. He does fresh things and I recreate his things mostly vegan style."

Keep up with chef Rene Johnson by following her on Instagram and Blackberry Soul catering on Facebook. You can pick up a copy of her new cookbook, "From My Heart to Your Table," on Amazon.