Top Chef 2017: Jenna Kinard

Jenna Kinard | The Fighter
Executive Chef, MAX’s Wine Dive

Jenna Kinard has had some obstacles to overcome in her life. A former model, as well as a beauty pageant participant who was crowned Miss Teen Texas-World in 2009, Kinard knows the perils of perfectionism firsthand. It led to an eating disorder that sidetracked her until she made peace with herself and with God. After that, her life took a new turn that ultimately led her into the kitchen.

Her culinary journey began as a teenager. First working as a server, Kinard then paid her dues by working in the dish pit before moving her way up through the ranks. She learned her craft on the job, adding to her knowledge and skill while serving as a prep cook, a line cook, a pastry chef, and a sous-chef − eventually earning her first Executive Chef title at just 22 years of age.

“When I got my start in the kitchen, I was so eager and passionate about food, I wanted to be immersed in it, and I think it was that energy and drive that the chefs I worked for noticed and could relate to,” Kinard says. “I am so fortunate that they took time out of their day to teach me the basics and educate me on food. This helped me define my palate and creativity and to identify as a chef.”

Kinard added Executive Chef at MAX’s Wine Dive to her resume in 2016 when she took over the kitchen and began putting her mark on the popular West Seventh-area eatery. Her style is naturally infused with a little Southern flare, which blends perfectly with the quirky menu at MAX’s – whose catchphrase touts “Fried chicken and champagne?…why the hell not?”

“People who know me also know that Paula Deen was just as much of an influence on me and in finding my purpose in the kitchen. I watched her shows for months on end, created dozens of her recipes, and just started retaining knowledge and finding my own style,” she says.

In a full-circle moment, Chef Kinard will appear as a guest on two of Paula Deen’s upcoming “Positively Paula” cooking shows, which are slated to air this fall.

She says a restaurant kitchen can also be a tough place to feel at home in your own skin. “In the beginning of my career as a chef, being a woman in the kitchen was intimidating for me. I felt that in order to be successful in the industry, I had to be this tough, hard broad…which is someone that I am not capable of being.”

In reality, Kinard is a girly-girl in many ways. “I am obsessed with glitter, sparkly and pastel everything…unicorns, flowers, you name it,” she says.

If she was not already living her culinary dreams, Kinard says she might have continued pursuing her career as an actress. This is one reason she is intrigued by dabbling into molecular gastronomy – it’s all about the drama.

“You’ve probably seen some chefs use liquid nitrogen in their cooking, which is basically a garnish made of what looks to be heavy smoke, edible sugar balloons, or caviar that has been made out of fresh citrus fruits or vegetables,” she says. “It’s all about a performance, all about the drama. It introduces emotion, feelings and art into one’s dining experience, making it more of an event rather than just a meal.”