Even though I never dreamed in a million years that I would become a professional chef—or a cookbook author—my love of food goes way back, to a very young age.
When I was a little girl, my grammy used to hand my sister and I a bowl and a spoon, saying “Make whatever you want! If it's good, we'll eat it; if it's gross, we'll throw it down the drain.” This resulted in many failed experiments, of course, but she instilled in me a sense of creativity when it comes to food, and that stuck with me my whole life. Cooking became my outlet, my way of letting loose and having fun, and also my way of dealing with stress. That became pretty important when I struck out on my first career adventure, one that had absolutely nothing to do with food.
After high school, I started taking community college classes nursing school. My great-grandfather was a doctor, and I planned to follow in his footsteps. So, I began volunteering at a local hospital and wanted to earn my credits for nursing school—but there was just one problem. I was horrible at math. And when it finally came time to visit a potential nursing school in person, I broke down crying. "What am I doing here?" I thought and ran home to cook.
I made everything—and I mean everything—that night. Cupcakes! A huge chicken dinner! Whatever I had, I threw it on the stove and in the oven. My boyfriend came over to help me eat it all and in his soothing, encouraging way, gently said, "Um, Nisa? Why don't you do this for a living?"
It was the first time I had ever considered cooking as a career option.
So, I started a little Facebook page called "Nisa's Cooking" and shared with my friends whatever I was making that day. People started asking me questions, like, "How can I cook that in a dorm room? How can I cook that on a budget?" Basically, it was a lot of kids who had just gone to college and didn't know how to cook for themselves. I experimented with different recipes and came back to them with answers—and slowly, I began teaching them how to cook.
It gave me the idea to share these ideas with more people than just the ones on my Facebook page, so I Googled "book editor" and found a woman named Helen Chang in San Diego. She told me that creating a book like the one I wanted was expensive and that I also needed a bigger following. So she suggested I at least grow my fan base and to call her back in a year.
In that year, I enrolled in culinary school, I got a job hostessing at a restaurant, and I also saved enough money to put a down payment on Helen's services. I got my social media channels up and running, started shooting little videos of my recipes, and a year to the day, I called Helen back. "You might not remember me, but I called you a year ago about writing a cookbook together?" Helen later told me that her jaw dropped—she couldn't believe I had actually called her back. We got right to work, and together, we wrote and photographed the book of my dreams: Kitchenability 101: The College Student's Guide to Easy, Healthy, and Delicious Food. I decided to self-publish it, and the book went to print on my 21st birthday (just in time for me to legally toast its completion!).
These days, my favorite aspects of being an author are traveling to do events with college students and seeing their faces absolutely light up. They can't believe that cooking can be this easy—“I can make an entire meal with a rice cooker?" they'll gasp—and I love instilling that confidence in them. I'm also a weekly food contributor to Parade.com, doing cooking demos on local morning shows all over the country, and still answering questions on my Facebook and Twitter pages.
None of this would have happened if Helen, my family and my whole Kitchenability team hadn't given me a chance, and even though I had no idea I would one day cook for a living, run my own business or write a book, it's been a total dream from start to finish.
An author, speaker and Internet sensation, Nisa Burns made her venture into the culinary world in true Gen Y fashion: virally. Sharing recipes in social media circles, Nisa’s spunky but common-sense approach to food soon earned her many fans on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. She is a culinary graduate of the Art Institute of Virginia Beach and the CEO of Kitchenability, Inc.