Kristel Allen won’t give diet or even gastric surgery the credit for her being able to shed 350 pounds; determination is where she places responsibility, and the chef and teacher brings that with her every day, whether she’s teaching or prepping food at Chef Space in the wee hours of the morning.
“It’s a lifestyle, not a diet,” Allen says, explaining that because of the surgery, her remaining stomach will only hold a few ounces of food. People who’ve had the surgery must learn to live within certain parameters of eating small portions with lots of proteins and low carbs.
Allen, 39, has been taking advantage of Chef Space’s new rent-by-the-hour program to prepare meals for her 80 or so regular clients of her business, Kristel’s Keto Kitchen. For $25, they get five meals, which she typically makes between 3 and 7 a.m. on Sundays.
She also rents out kitchen space at Chef Space, which is located in the Russell neighborhood, when she does special events, such as a recent private sorority function where she fed 450 people. She has a JCPS catering event coming up that will include 1,000 attendees.
For the length of its run, Chef Space has rented dedicated kitchen space to regular users, small business owners who didn’t have a brick-and-mortar kitchen but had clients to serve. Current members include Wells Made, Elixir Kombucha, Lucretia’s Kitchen and V-Grits, while Black Rock Grille and Kentucky Taco Co. are alumni.
But the chef incubator now uses the Food Corridor to enable entrepreneurs to book time by the hour, according to Jessica Morgan, president of Chef Space. Rates during prime hours (8 a.m.-5 p.m.) are $25 per hour, while hours between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m. are $15 per hour.
Short-term renters get similar access that dedicated clients do to kitchen supplies, towels, one apron and temporary storage, while overnight storage is available for an extra fee.
“I think it’s going over really well,” Morgan says, noting that so far, nine new businesses have scheduled hourly time. “It’s really been beneficial to our early startup businesses.”
Another Chef Space benefit for startup entrepreneurs is the Entreé-preneurship Introduction Program, a 10-course series that is in its fourth year. This year’s classes begin July 13 (registration required as space is limited).
For Allen, the new hourly program provides much-needed flexibility to run her business, especially within the confines of being a full-time JCPS teacher and mother of two.
“They are really supportive,” she says of Chef Space and the other clients there. “I love the fact it’s 24 hours because of how I work. The accessibility is awesome. It’s been nothing but a friendly atmosphere.”
Chef Space is partly designed to bring like minds together, people who are just getting started who can share ideas and advice with each other.
“Kitchen life is a high-stress environment,” Morgan says. “When you can be around others who are marching to the same beat, the same drum, it makes life a little bit easier.”
And it’s all coming together to give Allen a leg up on a culinary career. Allen says food has always been her passion, but she went into teaching for the stability of it, while still pursuing food ventures on the side.
“Growing up, there was no Food Network” to expose chefs and cooking culture to wide audiences, she said. “I said, ‘I need to get a ‘real’ degree, so I got an education degree.’”
But she continued food-related side hustles while living in Atlanta. Ultimately, she wants to combine her teaching experience with her culinary know-how, starting with a food truck. She envisions a business called Kristel’s KY Cooking, not just selling her goods but also teaching young people about food, cooking and other life skills.
“It’s going to be more than just a food truck,” she says. “I want it to be a village.”
Her surgery, paired with her resolve and new lifestyle, has her primed to leap forward not long past a time when she had difficulty even walking. Before losing the weight, she was having circulation problems in her legs that made it difficult to fulfill her duties as a teacher.
But what really opened her eyes was one day when her kids said, “Mommy, you can’t play with us.”
So, 350 pounds later, she’s working in education and running a business, prepping food in Russell, hours before most of us start hitting the snooze button.
“I know it sounds crazy, but I like it,” Allen says. “My metabolism is through the roof; I only sleep about four hours a day. There’s nothing holding me back.”